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High Life (free)

  • Vilas Hall 821 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

Claire Denis' 2018 film makes a compelling foray into the void of space. Info

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A bleak, transcendent, mind-bending odyssey into deep space, Claire Denis’ latest creation proves to be light-years ahead of most contemporary science-fiction movies. With High Life, initially released in 2018, the visionary French filmmaker makes her English-language debut and first foray into the sci-fi genre. Robert Pattinson stars as Monte, a desultory astronaut who lives with his infant daughter, Willow (Scarlett Lindsey), in complete isolation aboard a deteriorating spacecraft. The film gradually reveals that they are the last survivors among a crew of social outcasts who had been recruited to participate in radical space experiments. The disposable passengers of the ship include the unhinged fertility specialist Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche), the impetuous Boyse (Mia Goth), and the acquiescent gardener Tcherny (André Benjamin, otherwise known as André 3000 of OutKast).  

Denis’ nebulous, intimate drama unfolds in a series of impressionistic, striking, strangely lurid images as she crisscrosses space and time to probe the darkest recesses of the human psyche. Flashbacks provide clues as to the nature of the crew’s mission, which has something to do with the Earth’s imminent environmental catastrophe and extracting energy from a distant black hole. The enclosed world of the spaceship (designed by conceptual artist Ólafur Eliasson), at once luxuriant and sterile in the juxtaposition of its onboard greenhouse and smooth metallic textures, feels as tangible as the stark interior of a prison. Spare but luminous cinematography by Yorick Le Saux and an eerie musical score by Stuart Staples accentuate HighLife’s apocalyptic implications and startling flourishes of body horror. With its fractured, elliptical story, seductive visual style, cool intellectual precision, and retro-futuristic edge, Denis’ ineffable film boldly traces its own orbit. A fluid, singular evocation of interstellar travel and a compelling look at the near future of human existence, High Life ultimately offers a faint glimmer of hope, even as it plunges headfirst into the void. —Jason Fuhrman

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