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‘High Life:’ Claire Denis Made a Film Set in Space That Explores the Meaning of Existence (But Isn’t Science Fiction)

“The film takes place in space but it’s very grounded.”

High Life is not a science-fiction film even if there are healthy doses of fiction,” emphasizes director Claire Denis, “and science thanks to the precious participation of the astrophysicist Aurélien Barrau, specialist in astroparticle physics and black holes.”

“Everything in [space] is already known!” she tells A.A. Dowd. “The existence of black holes, the energy in a black hole… I’ve done the reading, and I’m not inventing aliens or creating a new space colony or anything. I love stories like that, but it was not the purpose of this film.” To read the full interview, click here.

“The film takes place in space,” Denis says, “but it’s very grounded.”

In High Life, Monte (played by Robert Pattinson) and his daughter Willow live together aboard a spacecraft, in complete isolation. They were members of a crew of prisoners—death row inmates, guinea pigs sent on a mission—but now only Monte and Willow remain. Together, the father and daughter approach their destination—a black hole in which time and space cease to exist.

“For a science fiction film, High Life keeps its distance from the usual bells and whistles of the genre,” writes Peter Travers, “preferring the minimalism of Yorick Le Saux’s spare cinematography and the near-subliminal hum of Stuart Staples’ score.” To read the full review, click here.

“I didn’t have any recent science fiction films in my head,” Denis recalls. “I find they all have the same NASA sheen: too pretty, civilized, hygienic, Kens and Barbies floating in spaceships that look like children’s toys.

“The big problem in terms of references is obviously Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey,” she continues. “If we decide to tell the story of a spaceship that leaves the solar system, 2001 pops into our heads like a devilish jack-in-the-box. So you have to forget 2001 even if it is forever etched in our brain cells, in our bodies. And you also have to forget Tarkovsky’s Solaris.”

“High Life may not quite be science fiction — it offers little in the way of speculation about the future, or about how technology may develop,” says Bilge Ebiri. “But it does fit into the metaphoric strain of science fiction — allowing Denis to use the hermetically sealed, fantastical nature of her setting to further distill her obsessions.

High Life is ultimately about a man who has walled himself off from all emotion and responsibility finally learning—at the far, desolate end of the universe and maybe even of human time itself—how to open himself to another being, and all the wonders and horrors that come with it.” To read the full review, click here.

High Life is some kind of strange masterpiece, and its brutality is ultimately matched by its exquisite tenderness of feeling,” Justin Chang says. “In time the story returns to that vision of Monte and his young child, traveling together toward an uncertain destination. Denis gets you to feel the depths of their isolation, but also their curious contentment: The great, unfathomable void of outer space has become the only home they will ever know or need.” To read the full review, click here.

“It is a film about despair and human tenderness,” Denis says. “About love, despite everything.”