Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Basic Human Space: Claire Denis' Rapturous New Film, High Life

High Life (2018) - Denis
Hazy mist sprays over the vegetable garden from a sprinkler system. Monte (Robert Pattinson) in space suit is seen outside the space craft, doing some sort of repair. There is a baby in a makeshift crib. He is cooing the baby through the speaker system. As she cries louder and louder, he loses his concentration and drops his wrench into the void. So starts a rapturous new film by Claire Denis, High Life.

With jumbled timeline and voiceovers over the course of the film, we gather this square, retro looking spaceship once was populated by convicts on death row being subjects to medical experiments as they get close to the nearest black hole. Doctor on board is Dibs (Juliette Binoche) who apparently killed her entire family on earth. She administers drugs and experiments to the crew mostly comprised young people of all genders and races. It's their reproductive abilities near the black hole she is most concerned about. The experiment can't fail because the ship is programmed to cut off life supplies if it does. It's now Monte's job to keep it going. So this is the basic idea for High Life.

It's all about basic human needs- eating, shitting, fucking and making little babies, in space. It's all about the human bodily fluids. Shit happens and people die. The ship's interior is beige colored and stained (with human fluids) and worn out in that queasy 70s way. Doing Science Fiction, Denis goes about it with bare minimum - no grand establishing shots of the interiors, no extreme high-tech, anticeptic looking dingerdos, just because it's not her concern. There is a 'fuck box' where crew uses to get their rocks off. Monte is practicing celibacy because he wants to control himself. But Dr. Dibs has other ideas about that. Denis pushed the limit of what is considered good taste with The Bastards. With High Life, she pushes even further - Taboo isn't taboo anymore. It has sharp edges like her other films. And It's those ecstatic moments, like in many of her other films - frozen bodies floating in space, meteor showers, baby eating dirt in the vegetable garden, dead dog in the stream, sudden burst of violence and emotions that puts High Life very much in the top tier of all Claire Denis-ean film.