But don't miss out on something brilliant because of the reviews left by viewers who thought they were settling in to watch a Hollywood sci-fi flick meant to entertain them and wow them with special effects. They misunderstood the film from the outset. High Life isn't typical Hollywood fare; this is art. It isn't meant to entertain; it's meant to present existential questions that have no easy answers (if there be any answers at all). This is indie film at its best.
High Life is a quietly intense, slow-burning, raw and uncomfortable portrayal of the ugliest reaches human nature. Director Claire Denis vividly (and, at times, disturbingly) depicts that depravity and then contrasts it with scenes of unexpected innocence and beauty. Known for her penchant to depict beauty in the midst of ruin and despair, Denis doesn’t disappoint in High Life, and in fact, this may be her best work in that regard.
Robert Pattinson's character, Monte, is a criminal, a man resigned to his bleak existence aboard a doomed spaceship, but instead finds himself challenged and upended by possibility and hope when he unwittingly becomes a father—and sole caretaker—to newborn daughter Willow. Pattinson quite effectively portrays Monte with disarming tenderness, evident in every scene with Willow from start to finish.
Anyone who has followed Pattinson’s career over the past ten years (particularly his post-Twilight roles) knows he’s a gifted, understated actor who’s only gotten better with experience, culminating in his latest indie roles (Good Time, Damsel, High Life, The Lighthouse), but he particularly shines as Monte. Denis possesses a talent for soft, luxurious shots that create a dreamlike aesthetic, and she does not disappoint with her evocative, often sensuous depictions of Pattinson (who on his own possesses an otherworldly type of beauty). She capitalized on that beauty, and consequently, Pattinson’s Monte takes on an ethereal quality at times.
All the other actors were superb in their roles, as well, including the two child actors who portrayed Willow (as a baby and then as a teen). Both of these young ladies were impressively effective in their roles, bringing breathtaking, startling innocence to each one of their scenes.
There are numerous scenes that portray violence, but it’s not a bloodbath as some seem to imply. I’m sensitive to graphic violence, and I didn’t find anything to be too graphic, or too much to watch. The portrayal of violent rape was disturbing, but not graphic in my opinion. The sexual content was heavy, but there were no graphic depictions of sexual activity—with the exception of the f*ckbox scene, of course, but even that was watchable in that it seemed to be portrayed as more of a statement (and an artistic take on that statement) than something included for mere titillation.
It's frustrating to see such a brilliant, cerebral film receive so many one-star reviews from viewers who were expecting typical Hollywood-style fare, and then didn't react well when it turned out to be nothing like a mainstream flick. Reading through the one-star reviews, it’s evident that many unassuming viewers balked at the unexpected content and were quick to leave reviews that defame the film, the actors, and the director with disgusted rants that reveal a complete misunderstanding of the film and the director’s vision.