I’m just going to go ahead and say that right out of the gate: High Life is not for everyone I’ll get into specifics about why this will turn some away, but let’s just say there were walkouts in my small showing. While I do recognize this isn’t exactly “mainstream” this is still a really good, well made film. It’s very subtle and quiet, which is a big part of what makes it effective in the end. I do hope this does well and gets seen because it deserves the recognition.
The first thing I think needs to be talked about here is the sound. The soundtrack is so incredibly spot on when it comes to setting the mood and overall tone. There aren’t any songs, rather sounds and scores that reinforce both what these characters are feeling and what we as the audience should be feeling. As I watched this, I just kept thinking about the importance of sound in films like these.
The visuals are just right. Both the images themselves and how they are presented to us is perfect, it fits what the filmmakers are striving for. Usually in films about space, the scope of the images are very grand and epic. Here, it’s the opposite, they’re very simple and low key, this is once again something else to reinforce the overall feel. And they are so exquisitely done too, very beautiful.
The plot focuses on a group of death row inmates who have agreed to “contribute to science” and live in a ship in space instead of either spending life in prison or receiving the death penalty. The real meat of the story surrounds Pattinson, Binoche, and Mia Goth. Binoche is a doctor who is obsessed with trying to successfully reproduce. She takes the men’s sperm and inserts it in the women, trying her best to create viable fetuses. Because of the radiation, the fetuses keep failing which drives her a little crazy because as she puts it in the film, she’s “devoted to reproduction”. This mission of hers involves other characters (including Pattison and Goth) in different ways; this ends up being the main plot point of the film. This film could’ve easily been a disaster, because the whole thing hinges on very strong performances and being able to create the correct atmosphere. Because of the masterful ways both of these are executed, this film really works. The performances here are something special, I wanna take a minute to focus on Binoche’s.
Juliette Binoche is a fantastic actress, and is able to convey exactly what’s necessary for the audience to feel in the moment. Her character requires a strong sense of both dread and obsession. She’s a very frank and sexual woman; we see that multiple times. I will say that while a couple scenes went pretty far with her sexuality, it didn’t seem exploitative, it seemed necessary in order to have a window into her as a character. Binoche just brings it in this film, I felt so captivated by her. I actually loved her so much here that I missed her when she wasn’t in a particular scene.
While I haven’t been the biggest Robert Pattinson fan in the past (to be honest the Twilight Saga is the only thing I had to go off of) I liked his performance here, he seemed to really dig in and embody this character. Mia Goth is great, she plays a very rigid girl who ends up going through quite a bit throughout this film, and I must say that I loved the very real ways she portrayed this character. A lot is asked of her and she delivers 100%.
High Life does go to some dark places. The majority of the places it goes to is either pertinent to the plot or so we can see into a character and learn more about them. Just so you know what you’re getting into though, there’s male rape, attempted female rape, several scenes where people are violently killed, a prolonged scene where Juliette Binoche’s character uses “the box” (this is essentially a room with a machine that simulates sexual intercourse), and a lot of nudity. I am saying all this so you are aware because like I mentioned there was a walkout during one of the heavily sexual scenes. Also, in case you’re an assault survivor and any of this might be triggering for you. I will say that I thought the rougher scenes were handled pretty tastefully, it never came across as exploitative. The only negative thing I took away from this film was that there really isn’t any character to root for. That’s fine because you don’t really need to root for anyone, you’re more observing interesting people rather than pulling for someone. Although, there are a couple scenes that tempt you to root for someone., but then you know what they’ve done that landed them where they are and you’re like no thank you.
Overall, High Life is a very well made original film that I suggest seeing in theaters. I think this one plays better in theaters rather than waiting to rent it. Like I mentioned, do know what kind of content you can handle because it does get graphic at times. If you do choose to go (I hope you do) you’ll for sure be thinking a lot about it afterwards, which is something else I loved about it; it’s a “thinker”.