TOM TANGNEY

‘High Life’ is a work of art that you have to work to appreciate

Apr 12, 2019, 10:28 AM | Updated: 5:22 pm

High Life is a work of art. It’s a work of art that you really have to work at to appreciate, since it makes very few concessions to its audience regarding storyline or characters. In fact, you spend most of its 110 minutes just trying to make sense of what’s going on. In the end, there are still gaps in your understanding but you do realize the movie does have a commercially viable premise and its characters had the potential to be real box-office draws.

It’s just that the film is simply not interested in cashing in in that way. It would rather provoke discussion than offer up clever plot twists, romantic tensions, and character arcs to satisfy expectations. “High Life” is an art film with a capital A.

RELATED: ‘Shazam!’ is a superhero movie made mostly for kids

That should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the work of the auteur Claire Denis. She’s spent decades making esoteric films in French, and she’s staying true to form with High Life, even though it’s in English, stars a British movie star, and is set in outer space, all personal firsts for her.

It’s the latter aspect, I imagine, that surprises most Denis fans. But she is quick to say that despite the setting, it’s really more like a prison movie than a sci-fi flick. That’s an apt remark given that the spaceship the movie is set on is filled with convicts. We eventually figure out that the dozen or so people on board were all either on death row or facing life sentences down on earth. They were given the chance to go on a mission to the far reaches of outer space.

“They were scum, refuse that didn’t fit into the system, until someone had the bright idea of recycling us.”

RELATED: ‘Captain Marvel’ isn’t ‘Infinity War’ but is still plenty of fun

That sullen voice belongs to actor Robert Pattinson, the heartthrob of the Twilight films. He’s one of the last surviving criminal astronauts. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn about their double mission, one to find an alternative energy source via a black hole, and second to experiment with artificial insemination in space. Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche plays the insemination doctor who clashes with Pattinson’s character because he refuses to provide samples for her tests.

“I just don’t understand how you can still believe in your mission. It’s like you’ve become a shaman of sperm. It’s just a new religion for you.”

“Because I’m totally devoted to reproduction. Happy monk.”

Things for the most part go from bad to worse. It becomes clear that it’s more of a suicide mission than anything else. But at one point a baby is born. Is that the sliver lining in an otherwise grim existence? Is Clair Denis somehow getting at the essence of our humanity? Or is life in the face of death a fool’s errand, given the prospects? Mull those questions over as you leave the theater, why dontcha?

The ironically titled High Life might be better called Bleak in Space. Or Despair in Space. Or Grim Eroticism in Space.

No, I’ve got it: Bleak Erotic Despair in Space. That should sell some tickets.

Tom Tangney on KIRO Radio

Tom Tangney

Last Duel...
Tom Tangney

Poor Marguerite’s story saves ‘The Last Duel’

Tom Tangney says, ultimately, The Last Duel is a proto-feminist take on the Middle Ages with Marguerite's take that brings the film into focus.
2 days ago
James Bond...
Tom Tangney

Daniel Craig’s final James Bond movie comes full-circle

The 25th installment in the James Bond movie franchise may be titled "No Time to Die," but "Too Much Time to Die" may be more fitting.
10 days ago
Egyptian Theater...
Tom Tangney

Seattle’s Egyptian Theater hosts SIFF’s first ever documentary film festival

Seattle's Egyptian Theater is hosting SIFF's first ever documentary film festival. Dubbed DocFest, the weeklong festival features 13 separate titles.
17 days ago
...
Tom Tangney

A letter: ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ the movie

Dear Evan Hansen, The Movie: I'm sorry I didn't like you as much as you wanted me to. I tried, I really, really tried.
23 days ago
nine days...
Tom Tangney

‘Nine Days’ is about as life-affirming a movie as there can be

Nine days to live. That's the premise of this new, refreshingly original movie called "Nine Days." But that premise is not what you think.
2 months ago
stillwater...
Tom Tangney

‘Stillwater’ does not run deep enough

Written and directed by Oscar-winning Tom McCarthy, 'Stillwater' is a contemporary story about a father's attempt to free his daughter from a French prison. 
3 months ago

Sponsored Articles

...

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
...
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
...
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
...
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
...
Comcast

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Courtesy of JWatch Photography....
Experience Anacortes

Summer Fun Activities in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
‘High Life’ is a work of art that you have to work to appreciate