Conspicuously, the space helmets in High Life do not seal. That does not stop the passengers on the number 7 prison-come-spaceship from donning them and venturing out into the void as necessary. They do not die from asphyxiation or exposure when they do this, though they often die of other things. That the helmets don’t seal is a tip-off that whether or not the physics of this space-bound story make sense is not the point of High Life. Something else is.
What is that something else? I’m unsure. High Life has left me with moments.
- Robert Pattinson’s “Monte” bouncing a baby on his hip and intoning the word “taboo” over and over again.
- Mia Goth’s “Boyse” wallowing in her own unwanted lactation exploding out of her and the decision she makes because of it.
- Juliette Binoche’s “Dr. Dibs” wailing over the loss of another child because… she’s trying to make restitution for past wrongs? because she’s mad? because there’s nothing else to do on that ship and this hopeless pursuit is her penance?
- Monte’s assertion that lost in the void on a suicide mission to a black hole, the inmates made religious rituals out of everyday tasks. The way his shipmates call him a monk.
- André Benjamin’s “Tcerny’s” boots in the garden intruding like a qualification to my beloved WALL•E.
- Set design clearly meant to recall Solaris and Silent Running and Alien instead of more polished science-fiction fare.
- The dogs.
High Life resists my attempts to make something cohesive out of these things. High Life is a movie of stars but not constellations. And those stars retreat and advance upon you simultaneously. It’s a black hole like the ones the drifting astronauts are pursuing. Is there something on the other side? Maybe for some.
A movie doesn’t have to have a point if the space it creates is artfully composed and thematically rich. High Life is both of those things. Your enjoyment of the film will depend on how amiable you are to spending time in ambiguous narrative spaces, how much you take from the journey despite whatever destination you reach or don’t, as the case may be. The film is called High Life, so I do think it is meant to be hopeful even if it is persistently sad. Something about the persistence of humanity, the immortality of images, our dogged resolve to make meaning of them, how even a window can become a screen if we dare to look up.