Insomniac Cult Movie Theater: High Life

GhostAndy

IMG_5423One thing I often get flack about my Cult Movie Theater reviews is the fact that I don’t pick more modern movies. Y’know like ones from this century for example.

However that all changes today thanks to the monthly contests we’ve been having here at the GotS offices where we all make Top 10 lists about some topic and then it’s up to the vast unwashed masses on Twitter to make a decision on who’s was the best. For the month of November, we picked the top 10 favorite movies from the past decade that are NON comic book related. For a cinephile like myself, it was a sobering reminder that I haven’t watched nearly enough films that aren’t related to the capes and men in tights, and that needed to change.

So for the past month, I’ve been taking a crash course in a laundry list of movies that have popped up on other people’s Top 10 lists in hopes of peppering in a couple unknown gems for mine. Unfortunately, not every movie I watched over the past month in this regard made the cut, however some are worthy of inclusion on GotS as their own article.

So with that being said, here’s a review of an indie film that my wife and I snuggled up on the couch to watch the other weekend. In all honesty, I was the only one that finished it though as my wife gave up on it after a while.

Yes, Folks, strap in for a trip to the outer limits of space on rocket ships full of dead dogs and the inner limits of the human soul complete with women uncontrollably lactating everywhere, this is High Life.

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High Life

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Background:

Debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of 2018, High Life is the first English speaking picture to be written and directed by the french filmmaker, Claire Denis. It was co-written with Jean-Pol Fargeau with whom she worked on several projects over the years including Chocolat in 1988 and Beau Travail in 1999.

**The next section is more than a bit “spoiler”y so if you want to watch this film, I’d suggest just skipping this part. **

It’s primarily the story of a group of death row convicts that are sent aboard a box like spaceship at nearly the speed of light towards a nearby black hole in our galaxy. The main mission of the crew is to collect energy by circling the drain of the black hole as it were and transmitting that energy back to Earth, where it can be used for an alternate power source.

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However, there is a secondary “mission” if you can call it that being performed by the crew’s chief “scientist” , named Dr. Dibbs (played by Juliette Binoche). I use both of those words in quotes because it’s very ambiguous as to whether Dibbs is in fact in charge given she too is a convicted murderer, and whether or not her research is even sanctioned by anyone other than the crew that she has a weird psychological stranglehold on. I mean there is this notion that Dibbs has to make regular reports on progress or else the life support of the ship will be turned off by the computer systems, but it’s never really made clear who is asking for these messages in a bottle.

Regardless, the primary goal of her research is to produce a baby through artificial insemination, and as a result, nobody has real sex with anyone else aboard the ship with all sexual urges being satisfied by something called “the box” which in essence an elaborate broom closet of masturbation.

As I’ll get to in by 2am Thoughts section, this secondary mission is actually where the movie spends most of its time, as it seems that the interpersonal dynamics of exploring humans being cut off from normal sexual activities, the biological urge to produce children, and the effects of these things on strained and isolated individuals in much more interesting than black holes to the director at least.

Anyways, our future Batman, Robert Pattinson, plays Monte, a semi reasonable every-man type character, that found himself in prison after killing a fellow childhood playmate in a fit of rage after they killed his dog. He’s the only one that refuses to give into the visiting “the box” as well as Dr. Dibbs somewhat obvious flouting her female goods for the titillation of every red blooded man on board.

However, this plan eventually backfires when Dibbs drugs the water supply with powerful sedatives and ends up semi raping Monte in pretty much the only traditional sex between two people seen in this film.

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After which Dibbs uses Monte’s…urrr…ummm…seed to impregnate this girl named Boyse (played by Mia Goth) who Monte seemed to have an unstable yet strangely loving relationship with. This does produce a child named Willow although Boyse slowly goes insane from it given Dibbs keeps the child for herself, denying Boyse of the ability to exercise normal maternal instincts. Long story short, Boyse ends up killing herself as a result by piloting a ship into the black hole which creates a chain of events in which everyone other than Monte and Willow dies.

Monte does end up being a pretty good dad though raising Willow aboard the slowly deteriorating ship until she’s a teenager. They then decide to fly into the black hole themselves, which I guess they survive, not sure…it’s somewhat vague.

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Oh the hip hop artist Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000 from OutKast) also plays a small role as Monte’s only friend, this guy named Tcherny who is obsessed with the ship’s garden. I say small role because he’s largely forgotten about throughout the course of the movie, getting only a handful of small scenes. I’ll talk about that more in a moment…

 

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2am Thoughts and Reflections:

First off, let me say that I had somewhat high hopes going into this movie. As a fan of more intellectual sci-fi pictures like 2001 or Solaris, I figured I was in for some sort of art house style, scientifically accurate exploration of what really happens when humans are stuck in space for a really long time. Although the movie touted the fact that physicist and black-hole expert Aurélien Barrau actively consulted on the movie to ensure a degree of realism, I’m not sure being scientifically accurate was this film’s problem.

The problem was it was somewhat of a jumbled mess in my opinion. Not because the story is somewhat told in a non linear style what with the beginning showing Willow as a young baby living with Monte as a struggling father aboard the now empty spaceship before flashing back and forth from the past and present. No, I’ve seen enough movies to understand that concept. It’s that again, this movie seemed to jump around in terms of  the point it wanted to tell.

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If you read any other reviews, you’d immediately see mention that this movie is somewhat obsessed, like Dr. Dibbs herself, with human bodily fluids. More importantly, how those bodily fluids whether its water, feces, urine, semen, lactation, or menstrual discharge define our existence to a certain degree.

They are sign posts that make up our everyday human life, and one of the major points I feel this movie is trying to make is that when those fluids are somewhat perverted through artificial controls, then human beings suffer. Especially those that deal with human sexuality, as the movie really pushes the fact that masturbation isn’t enough for a human being to really feel normal. It’s the social aspects of the act that make people whole. Additionally, childbirth is an extremely personal thing. It should not be messed with unless you want humans to lose their shit over it.

However, if that’s the point the movie is trying to make, it really does get in it’s own way with a lot of extra stuff that is unnecessary to that theme.

First and foremost, there are tons of excess characters in this movie.

Whether it’s Andre 3000‘s pointless gardener, to the ship’s captain, Chandra, who dies of cancer caused by radiation, heck even Willow is a pointless character as I’d argue everything that happens after Dr. Dibbs dies from a narrative perspective is pointless. I mean, who cares whether Monte successfully raises Willow or not, that’s not the story you are trying to tell here.

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I would say that the only 3 characters that are extremely important to the real story this movie is trying to tell are Dr. Dibbs, Monte, and Boyse as I feel like deep down this story can be boiled down to a very non sci-fi base premise:

Dibbs lost her baby. Dibbs wants another baby. Dibbs can’t have a baby. Monte and Boyse can have babies. Dibbs uses Monte and Boyse to have a baby. Everyone ends up broken as a result.

I mean everything from the intense scientific fascination with bodily fluids to masturbation to Willow’s birth all leads back to this notion that Dibbs wanted to have another baby and was manipulating everything to that end. And I won’t lie, that’s a pretty good story plot. The parts of the movie that dealt directly with that were very good indeed.

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However, the attempted rape scene with Boyse and some other guy named Ettore (aka neck tatoo guy), Andre 3000 quietly committing suicide in the garden, and again all the scenes with Willow as a teenager, especially the dead dog spaceship they encounter, that are completely unnecessary to this plot.

Hell, they didn’t even need to be on a spaceship for this story to happen. It could have been “random bunker underground” or “floating research laboratory at sea”. All you needed was a plot device to isolate a microcosm of humanity to let the premise play out. So why do you even need a black hole expert?!?

Grrrrr…sorry…at times, it just seemed pretty painfully obvious that was the case…

 

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Final Grade: C-

I won’t lie. Originally, when I walked away from watching this movie, I was a little more generous with my opinion than I am at this very second. Sometimes it takes me writing down my thoughts to really formulate my true impression of a movie. And as you can tell, I’m pretty critical of this one.

I did enjoy the overall atmosphere of the movie. The bleak and emptiness of space works well with the premise of the film being the effects of isolation on the human psyche. True, that’s the case with a lot of movies of this ilk, but at least this movie takes it one step further by removing even starlight as a point of reference.

Instead, it’s just dark. Very dark and abyss-like, which works given there’s a black hole looming large in the background.

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I also enjoyed the overall story as I mentioned about the love triangle between Monte/Dibbs/Boyse because that was well acted by everyone and genuinely creepy from a psychological perspective, especially the sex scene between Monte and Dibbs as well as the impregnation of Boyse afterwards. It was almost serial killer-esque.

But everything in this movie, as I said, is completely unnecessary.

It’s not necessary to know that Monte or any of the other space people are criminals. Why is that there? So you can justify the fact that all of their civil rights are being stepped on? Eh…there are other ways around that from a narrative perspective.

The only person who’s criminal past matters to the plot is actually Dibbs as being a mother who killed her children, because that provides additional justification to her actions. But it’s super confusing because she’s the one in charge! Like you don’t give the keys to your Arkham Asylum to the Joker for God’s sake!

Why are they going to a black hole? Just to give a gruesome death scene to Boyse? Not necessary.

Why is it important that Willow is raised to be a teenager? I get her being a baby at the beginning of the movie because that’s a compelling hook to get the audience interested in your story. But after that…Not necessary.

Why is Andre 3000 there? Seriously. He does nothing! Really Not Necessary!

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Yeah, so in the end, this is “Okay” movie that’s polluted by a meandering plot with a ton of unnecessary stuff.

It should have been like 40 minutes tops with a three person cast. Just three terrific actors in Robert Pattinson, Mia Goth, and Juliette Binoche exploring the issues that arise from sexual obession and surrogate childbirth given these are very real and topical discussion points in our modern society.

Everything else could have been pitched into the black hole.

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