HIGH LIFE

“…succeeds in dismantling its own carefully nurtured air of suspense and sense of remote hopelessness thanks to the director’s own rather self-indulgent feminist fantasies.” – Wayward Wolf.

Ridley Scott’s hit and miss interplanetary epic, The Martian, was an object lesson in how to create half a film full of wonderful atmosphere and a haunting sense of isolation, and then systematically ruin it by way of a toe-curlingly naff, badly-scripted complete sell-out of a second half.

Which given the quality of the film’s first half was a huge shame.

Claire Denis’ space oddity, High Life, on the other hand, is an intriguing affair, yet succeeds in dismantling its own carefully nurtured air of suspense and sense of remote hopelessness thanks to the director’s own rather self-indulgent feminist fantasies.

Indeed, feminist ideology courses through the veins of Denis’ film with its prominent themes of female empowerment, control and sexual liberation never better exemplified than with Juliette Binoche’s man-free indulgence in a machine-enabled act of sexual abandon inside an Orgasmatron-esque type cubicle that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Woody Allen’s excellent Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask.

But it would be inaccurate to consider Denis’ film as being in any way comedic, fixating as it does upon the more sobering facets of the human experience.

One harrowing scene in which the spacecraft’s resident male sex pest attempts to rape one of the girls on board as she sleeps, restrained in her quarters – a scenario which embellished with a display of overtly physical violence is understandably treated as the sinister act that it undoubtedly is – is played out to an ominous soundtrack and rounded off with a display of brutal and just retribution against the aforementioned offender.

Compare this if you will with Juliette Binoche’s character’s ‘seduction’ of a semi-comatose – also physically restrained – Robert Pattinson as he sleeps, in an attempt to satisfy her obsessional sperm-harvesting habit.

Here, however, absent is any sense of perceived menace. Instead, Binoche’s actions are painted as being some sort of beguiling, mystical and enchanting act, accompanied by an atmospheric almost ethereal soundtrack. An act of pleasure one could only surmise. And let’s be honest, I’m sure it would have been. But at the risk of going all Alan Partridge on you, facts are facts, and sex without consent, as we are so frequently reminded by all and sundry, is rape.

Double standards (unsurprisingly?) at play.

For all of Denis’ film’s blatant ideology, inconsistencies and shameless self-indulgence, whether it be the sometimes kitschy sets, the fun yet almost certainly dubious science, or simply the sheer unlikeliness of the entire scenario at hand, there is still ‘something’ about High Life that nevertheless hits the mark.

Whilst we might choose to characterise High Life loosely as science fiction, more accurately it is a study of human relations and connections and arguably could have been set anywhere in any sort of confined location.

With strong performances across the board and a narrative which more or less engages throughout, High Life is a film that on balance just about wins me over, though I can more than appreciate how this artistic cosmic melodrama has split its cinema-going audiences right down the middle.

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