High Life

Oct 11, 2019 by Contributing Writer on The Nickelodeon Blog

By Sara Osborn.

High Life was a film I initially watched while on a quest to be mildly entertained one lonely night of boredom in the summer of 2019. I expected a stereotypical science fiction film about life in space–a film to mindlessly watch and then promptly forget about less than an hour later. What I got was a movie that settled deeply into my mind for long after the film concluded.

I watched the film alone in my house with all the lights out, feeling as if I could have been a part of the space crew with the dark atmosphere and sense of distance from the greater population. There were simple, well-planned scenes of the human body and human interaction. Interwoven with this was an emphasis placed upon sexual desires and fluids. The imagery absorbed me into the narrative as I spent the beginning of the film attempting to unravel all of the interlocking fragments that, I began to realize, were never meant to be fully processed. It was not a film I watched feeling like an outsider looking in, endeavoring to analyze its moving parts. Instead, I watched and reacted as the simple space-life plot I had anticipated was torn down to reveal a visceral movie about reproductive experimentation and intimacy. I gave myself over to the moments as they were being depicted, allowing my senses and my mind to experience it on an instinctual level. It left me thinking for days.

The film centers around Monte (Robert Pattinson), one of several convicts turned servants to science aboard a spaceship undergoing reproductive experimentation at the hands of Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche). These fertility experiments express a view of reproduction that goes back to the core of human bodies and what they are made of–of what they can produce. It takes viewers on a journey of sexuality, trust, despair, reproduction, and parenthood on a non-linear timeline that makes the film an almost tangible experience with its willingness to explicitly depict the fluids that are a part of human life and reproduction. It is a film to experience more than a film to be fully understood. Understanding only comes, if at all, when director Claire Denis deems fit–she exhibits masterful control over her crew and her film. She is not afraid to let the viewer sit in wonder and submission to the unspecified.

Denis beautifully crafted High Life to birth a sense of realness concerning the life of Monte and his fellow prisoners, their reproductive manipulation by Dr. Dibs, and the wonders of human sexuality. It felt real to me as I watched and escaped into the film’s narrative. Monte at one point tells Dr. Dibs that she is a “shaman of sperm,” as she decides how all of the convict’s fluids and bodies will be used in order to create what she deems is the perfect child. Denis’s heavy focus on fluids and sexuality intensify the primal components of reproduction. The explicit depiction of semen, blood, and sweat sparked my senses. Denis has created a film not primarily about sex, but about sexuality and the full range of human desires, creating a viewing experience that will leave you thinking–and feeling–for days.

Weird Sisters: Power, Possession, and Feminine Abjection is a series that examines the political complexity of female monsters in this era in which “the witch is having a moment.” We may presume we’ve redeemed the monstrous feminine and welcomed her into mainstream society, but what dread powers might disrupt our easier images of the new “witchy” aesthetic?

This series is curated by Alice Lilitu and Julia Elliott, sponsored by University of South Carolina Women’s and Gender Studies & South Carolina Honors College, and will contain presentational and marketing materials from students in Julia Elliott’s Gender and Monstrosity in Horror Films class at UofSC.