Trigger Warning: Sensitive material relating to sexual violence
“High Life” marks Robert Pattinson’s 2019 comeback. First glimpsed as a sweaty pre-pubescent in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and popularized as a sexy but sullen vampire in The Twilight Saga, Pattinson emerged as a serious actor in “Good Time” (2017). 2019 includes two highly anticipated Pattinson releases, “High Life” and “The Lighthouse,” and a possible rebranding of Pattinson as more than just a sex symbol.
“High Life,” directed by accomplished French filmmaker Claire Denis, is a sci-fi thriller released by independent outfit A24. The film exists in a near future world in which criminals are experimented on in space. Pattinson plays Monte, who takes care of his child inside the spaceship, now empty after everyone else has perished. This is also Denis’s second outing with Juliette Binoche, who co-stars as the eerily sensual Doctor Dibs in charge of experiments. The film flashes between the present and past, never fully clarifying the timeline until the end. But the overall creep factor stays with the viewer through the duration of the film.
“High Life” is an exercise in existentialism and metaphor disguised as a deeply depressed and nihilistic sci-fi romp. While the insights on human nature and how far humans will go in dire circumstances are interesting, the film never diverges from paths similar films have already taken. While Pattinson and Binoche do the best with their one-dimensional characters, the film never progresses beyond the weird and disturbing.
The main issue that plagues the characters is sex — or the absence of it. Every character mentally unravels due to their urges, with themes of masturbation and voyeurism leading to rape and incest. The assaults are excessive and predictable, unnecessarily torturing the viewer without any deeper meaning.
Not only is this footage difficult to stomach, but confusing given the sexual nature in which the characters and film are presented. Every scene oozes sexuality, from the rumbling undercurrent of the soundtrack to the switch of Dibs hips and calf-long hair. One of the only gorgeous sequences is filmed like a horror scene, in which Dibs gyrates on a sex toy machine in “the box.” Her long black hair flows up and down her shoulders as Dibs raises her arms and thrusts animalistically. This showcase of liberated female sexuality is regressive, in that it furthers the stereotype of female sexuality as dangerous rather than natural.
“High Life” raises uncomfortable questions about existence and humanity. The questions raised are never answered, leaving the viewer muddled and emotionally scarred.