The great French director Claire Denis’ newest film, High Life, opens with us alone on a small spaceship with Robert Pattinson and a young child. The girl is presumably his own, though we don’t know who they are, or why they’re there, so we can’t be sure. A fair stretch of the first part of the movie shows Pattinson living on this ship, tending to its lush garden, keeping the ship operating, and, most importantly, taking care of the toddler, revealing an unusual, but touching, representation of fatherhood.
In flashback, we see that there were other people on this ship, including a scientist played by Juliette Binoche, who was conducting bizarre fertility experiments on the others. Yes, that thriving garden has a meaning behind it. High Life deals very frankly with sex, fairly explicitly, often disturbingly. But, I have to say, this was refreshing, difficult as it was. This is a movie made by adults, for adults. And it’s not just the subject matter—High Life is quite challenging emotionally and philosophically. You’ll wrestle with what, exactly, the movie is trying to say, but I’m not sure you’re supposed to know for sure what it’s trying to say. I certainly don’t think Denis cares if you do.
High Life is a kind of science fiction movie that’s rare these days—it’s not big and bold, except in its ideas, which are huge, and it’s much more of a piece with movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, or either version of Solaris.
And—wait, did I just compare this movie to 2001? I did. Certainly not in terms of scope, and High Life probably won’t have a huge IMAX re-release in 50 years, but like 2001, this movie is interested in exploring ideas far more than showing off flashy space action. Denis’ movie is intimate, quiet, and demanding, and a perfect grown-up antidote to all of the usual whiz-bang summer blockbusters.