An astronaut on an odyssey to a distant black hole faces the challenges of parenting – and existential panic – in Claire Denis’ superbly eerie, mysterious space drama
Claire Denis’s deep space trauma High Life is an Old Testament parable catapulted forward into the 23rd century, a primal scene in a pressurised cabin of sci-fi pessimism, suppressed horror and denied panic. As if in a recurring dream, Denis brings us repeatedly to the image of a cream-panelled spaceship corridor that curves sharply around to the right; the area is at first pristine and then, as the years go by, shabby and derelict, stained with what may be body fluids. And what is around that corner?
This is a bizarre new creationist myth for those of us who ever wondered in childhood, and then forgot to wonder, about the taboo-breaking involved in propagating a race from just two people in the Garden of Eden, or two species representatives in the ark. It is also a tale of imperial expansion and sexual beings under pressure, just as in earlier Denis movies such as Beau Travail (1999) or White Material (2009); this is written by Denis with Jean-Pol Fargeau, Geoff Cox and Nick Laird, shot with luminous mystery by cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, with an eerie musical score by Stuart Staples of the band Tindersticks.
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