High Life

Critics Consensus

High Life is as visually arresting as it is challenging, confounding, and ultimately rewarding - which is to say it's everything film fans expect from director Claire Denis.



Total Count: 207


Audience Score

User Ratings: 691
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Monte (Robert Pattinson) and his baby daughter are the last survivors of a damned and dangerous mission to the outer reaches of the solar system.The crew death-row inmates led by a doctor (Juliette Binoche) with sinister motives has vanished. As the mystery of what happened onboard the ship is unraveled, father and daughter must rely on each other to survive as they hurtle toward the oblivion of a black hole. A staggering and primal film about love and intimacy, suffused with anguished memories of a lost Earth, High Life is a haunting, thrilling achievement from visionary director Claire Denis


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Critic Reviews for High Life

All Critics (207) | Top Critics (34) | Fresh (172) | Rotten (35)

  • High Life will send you back out into the world with a totally new idea of what black holes symbolize. It is an elliptical film, yes, because it will answer only the questions that you did not think to ask.

    May 14, 2019 | Full Review…
  • It's heavy, angry stuff. A film that lashes out at humankind as a species of grunting thugs entirely at the mercy of the procreative impulse. It ends with an uncharacteristic touch of optimism, but it's little and late. You'll need a stiff drink.

    May 10, 2019 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Kevin Maher

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • As with so many of Denis' films, the point is to contrive an overwhelmingly powerful mood and moment, an almost physiological sensation, this one incubated in the vast, cold reaches of space.

    May 8, 2019 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • The vastness of space is such a natural fit for the free-floating narratives of Claire Denis, it's a wonder she hasn't embraced sci-fi before now.

    Apr 18, 2019 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • The production design, the shimmering, evocative Stuart Staples music, everything blends together.

    Apr 15, 2019 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • A movie that is always vaguely interesting but that, here and there, finds ways to be brilliant in a wonderfully twisted way...

    Apr 12, 2019 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for High Life

  • Jul 26, 2019
    Think of this as unscience-fiction, with Denis mostly rejecting tropes and technobabble for something far stranger.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Jul 24, 2019
    The one movie more of my friends have cited as their favorite of 2019, besides Avengers, is a small little indie that left theaters as quickly as it arrived. High Life is a challenging, provocative science-fiction movie by French director Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In), making her English-language debut. High Life is set in the deep of space with a crew made up of prisoners serving life sentences. We follow Monte (Robert Pattinson) along with a baby and we're left to determine how they got here. The following two hours will explore the hazards of space, the fragility of man, and the weirdness of French people. I knew I was in troubled territory when the movie spends a whopping 18 minutes (18!) to set up that Pattinson is alone in space with a baby and everyone else on his crew is dead. I understand establishing a mood, a day-to-day sense of the grunt work operations this guy has to do to stay alive, but this is simply excessive latitude to convey the same information. It was a bad indication of what was to come. Fortunately, the movie picks up as we transition into the flashback of life with the crew and the growing anxiety and tensions that would seal their doom. I was waiting for some taut tension. We know they're all prisoners serving life sentences so I also expected some combustibility with them trapped, together, for years on end, and subjected to strange experiments. I expected some prisoners to lose their minds into madness and others to be distraught and others to be excitable. What I wasn't expecting was that everybody would simply be masturbating the whole time or raping each other. There's a hard turn into explicit sexuality and the movie starts to resemble a more insidious soft-core flick. There's a masturbation room though its overall importance escapes me. Juliette Binoche's character is performing fertility experiments and has her eyes set on a specific DNA combination. This leads to some bizarre and almost unintentionally hilarious moments where she stalks the halls with syringes of sperm. The psycho-sexual aspect of the movie feels like it should be more important but Denis doesn't seem to be articulating its importance, only using it as an excuse for characters to act on their carnality as if this is commentary on the human condition alone and without context. "Sex is the only freedom," she says, as if this is a unique observation. I suppose there's the concept that these people have been disposed of by larger society, jettisoned out of the solar system in the name of scientific discovery but perhaps just as a means of cleaning out Earth's prison population. These people are all atoning for something, or so we're told, and you would think the existential solitude and knowledge that they will likely never see Earth again would be a prime starting point for some really interesting and introspective examinations on these people, their conceptions of themselves, and their actions and place in the universe. We get little glimpses of this but mostly the other characters are kept at an unreachable distance; they're strangers to the audience, so when they start being dispatched one-by-one the emotional response is simply that of indifference. Another character we never got much of a sense of is gone. Oh well. The characterization by Denis and her four other co-writers (five people wrote this!) keeps everyone underdeveloped with the exception of our protagonist, who seems to be the model for the character journey the movie was setting up. He's trying to live a life free from urges but ultimately comes into care of a little baby. Their father/daughter survival could be the stuff of great drama that pushes his character into uncharted realms. Unfortunately, once Denis has killed off everyone the movie zips ahead to the baby now as a teenager and then it abruptly ends in what seems like a suicidal confrontation of oblivion that could have just as likely happened at any point. It feels only so much an ending because there are credits afterwards. This is going to be much more metaphorical and subtextual science fiction, so I was waiting for the eventual themes to emerge, and I just kept waiting. The first 18 minutes is watching Pattinson play take-your-daughter-to-work-day on the space ship. The next hour is almost a mad scientist drama with a bunch of expendable characters meeting unfortunate ends. There's also a lot of sexual violence here. Once we get caught up in the timeline, the last twenty minutes is pretty mundane until one final fateful decision that we established earlier is the physical equivalent of suicide. That's about it. It feels like pieces of more meaningful ideas and conversations are left as scattered detritus, demanding that an audience not just put the pieces together but also project their own meaning onto that puzzle. I don't mind a movie that makes me work but there's a difference between being ambiguous and being empty and vague. I don't know what Denis and her movie is trying to say and it's generally hard to follow when we don't get to know people and situations before jumping around in time. There's definitely a vision here, but to what? High Life often looks gorgeous, with large swaths bathed in moody lighting and artfully styled shot compositions. A masturbatory "dance" into something dream-like feels like what would happen if David Lynch tried his hand at erotica. The performances are rather blank as if Denis had precious little to explain about their characters. There's a stretch where they're all highly sedated as well, which only makes them seem like slightly sleepier versions of who we have seen up to this point. Pattinson has really impressed me with his recent indie output working with eclectic artists, especially his live wire performance in 2017's Good Time as a hapless criminal trying to get out of an increasing mess. Pattinson burrows into his character's monastic aim in an attempt to tap into something deeper. It just isn't there, so he looks longingly at the stars, thinks furtively about his past, and goes through his routine. These people too often feel like vacant shells of human beings, zombies walking the corridors in habit. The only other actor worth noting is Binoche (Ghost in the Shell) who gives it her all, especially during a masturbatory sequence that reminded me of a riding bull. Get ready for lots of extreme closeups of her pubic bone as well. High Life feels like Annihilation in space but even lacking that movie's attuned sense of purpose about mankind's relationship with nature and its general indifference to us. It fails to come together for me into something more cohesive or engaging or just even understandable. This is operating more on a metaphorical level than a hard science level, though the asides with black holes are depicted with intelligence. Mostly I was watching the movie and I kept waiting for the actual movie to kick in. There's a dispirited collection of ideas and images and a general lack of hurry to get around to saying little with clarity. It's frustrating because the movie has so much potential with its premise and setting and different narrative pieces, but ultimately it feels too lost in space when it comes to larger meaning and substance. Nate's Grade: C
    Nate Z Super Reviewer
  • Apr 25, 2019
    Science fiction filmmaking has always been one of the more interesting genres to me, due to the fact that your stories can be filled with endless imagination. From amazing films like 2001: A Space Odyssey to even mediocre blockbusters in Interstellar, they're always filled with concepts that impress me. Even if a sci-fi movie hits theatres and has me incredibly against it by the time the credits roll, I still usually find myself pleased with the visual style or the ambition behind the story as a whole. In the case of High Life, I absolutely admired everything about this movie, but I probably won't be telling anyone to rush out and watch it. Following Monte, as he floats around in a shuttle drifting through space, he and his infant daughter try to survive, alone. With flashbacks to previous events and character interactions that explain their current situation, this is a film that begins very ambiguous, but ultimately becomes bogged down in exposition and overly complex narrative choices, that simply had me frustrated with the movie overall. The premise of the film itself and the visual style that they were able to pull off on a budget of just over 10 million dollars. I absolutely loved everything about this movie that revolved around Monte (who was played very well by Robert Pattinson) and his daughter. Their growth throughout the film and development within their characters easily felt like the most impressive aspect. As mentioned above, the flashbacks and overly explanatory sequences took me out of the film. Not to ruin what the flashbacks consist of, but it was far less interesting than the present day timeline and they balanced the present day with the past quite evenly in terms of the film's run time, which was disappointing to me. Although noticeably low-budget, this is a very nicely shot film with some very unique sci-fi visuals. I wasn't completely sucked in, because some of the sets and ways certain scenes played out felt slightly cheap in my opinion. I'm not usually someone who complains about this, because filmmaking is insanely hard to get right, especially on a low-budget, but something about the atmosphere of this movie felt slightly off to me. In the end, High Life is the pure example of a movie that's not made for everyone. Even if I loved this movie, I still wouldn't recommend it, simply because there are many things presented throughout this movie that will turn off many viewers. I admired my experience with this movie as a whole and would've given the filmmakers a round of applause if they were at the screening, but the movie just didn't click with me in the ways I had hoped for. A very solidly constructed movie that just didn't quite work for me.
    KJ P Super Reviewer
  • Apr 22, 2019
    SPACE CASE - My Review of HIGH LIFE (4 Stars) Have you ever played the Movie Director Match Game? Ok, it doesn't really exist, but it's that thing where you fill in these blanks: I wonder what it would be like if _____________ directed a ________. For example, I've often wondered what it would be like if David Fincher directed a romantic comedy, or if Mira Nair directed a musical. Ok, I'm sure most of you will think, "I don't have time for your nerdy nonsense", but it's fun on a dull Friday night. Somebody was clearly playing my imaginary game when they paired legendary French director Claire Denis with a science fiction film. Known for her visually arresting, tonally confounding films such as BEAU TRAVAIL from 1999, this maverick makes her English language debut at the age of 73 (yesterday was her birthday!) with HIGH LIFE, an outer space odyssey which may confuse fans as much as it thrills them. Count me as someone in both columns. I'm not sure what I saw, but I loved it just the same. Describing the story won't really give you a sense of what it's like to see the film, but its bare bones trace the story of a group of death row inmates on a mission to harvest energy from a black hole deep in outer space. We know from the opening scene that only Monte (Robert Pattinson) and his infant daughter Willow have survived as we see him jettisoning the dead from the ship. How the rest of the crew met their fates makes up the body of the story. Their leader, Dibs (Juliette Binoche), also a convict, wants a baby by artificial insemination, since sex on the ship is forbidden. Frequent masturbation using an orgasmatron-esque "Box" keeps the crew from going completely nuts, but baby or no baby, these folks know they're on a suicide mission. How they face certain oblivion remains a consistent theme throughout the film. Other crew members consist of Tcherny (Andrà (C) Benjamin ), a gentle soul who feels at home in the ship's greenhouse, Boyse (a stunning, haunting Mia Goth), an emotionally volatile, heartbreaking woman, and others who make up one of the more vivid crews since ALIEN. In fact, HIGH LIFE reminded me so much of ALIENâ¦except without the aliens, that is. It's moody, visceral, and is in no rush to cut to the chase. Scenes may not flow together in the traditional sense, but the images do. It has its knockout, violent set pieces, but I'll remember the existential stillness more than anything else. I've never seen a spaceship on film quite like this one, resembling a brown trash barge more than the futuristic shiny things we're so used to seeing in other films. Denis cares less about narrative coherence and more about how moments make you feel. I loved shots of the crew standing together staring out the window or a lone space glove floating in the coat room. You won't find a ticking clock pace here, as time doesn't seem to matter to Denis. Some may find the film to be a crashing bore, but I found it hypnotic, open to interpretation, and beautiful. I'm still not exactly sure what I saw, but I know I want to see it again. Due to its stately pace and dreamlike imagery, Denis gives you plenty of time to reflect on hope and whether one lives their life in the past, present or future. Denis finds great beauty in this theme, where despite certain death, there's always hope that something else may occur. Pattinson, who has impressed me so much with great performances in GOOD TIME, THE LOST CITY OF Z, and DAMSEL, does so much with so little here. His physicality and his ability to simultaneously convey menace and kindness makes this underwritten role so mesmerizing. Post-TWILIGHT, he and Kristen Stewart have developed into two of the finest actors working today. He even does his own singing in the end credits song, and it's a Radiohead-like earworm. The concept of a junky spaceship is nothing new, but Denis and her Production Designers manage to make this ship, in all its ugliness, something to remember. It's well past its due date like the Millennium Falcon and the Sulaco, but it's even more dingy and claustrophobic. The crew may not be on Earth anymore, but they're still imprisoned. How each manages to cope with their situations results in lots of bodily fluids, rape, horrible deaths, and in one case, a beautiful sense of peace. If you don't mind non-linear, slow as molasses, confusing, open-ended storytelling, you may want to go on this long, strange journey. At 73, Denis shows that you can still make a totally original, batshit crazy film, and that's something to celebrate.
    Glenn G Super Reviewer

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