High Life

I spent yesterday night at the New York Film Festival, watching Claire Denis’s new film High Life. For a detailed and accurate review of the film, see the one at Variety.

This film is about a voyage to a black hole, in some sense an anti-Interstellar. Where the scientific plot of Interstellar was inspirational and made no sense at all, in High Life you get a plot that is all too plausible, and completely depressing. There’s a spaceship headed on a mission to a black hole, but this one doesn’t have brilliant scientists, traveling in a clean and shiny environment, and out to save the world. Instead, the crew is a bunch of ex-Death Row inmates, stuck on a dead-end trip in a filthy spacecraft swarming with recycled excrement, being subjected to grotesque sexual experiments, with periodic violent assaults, murders, and screaming babies to liven things up.

The supposed mission of the spacecraft is to travel to a nearby black hole and test whether energy can be extracted by the Penrose process. Because of all the murdering and such, that doesn’t work out too well. The ending involves another trip into a black hole, with discussion of whether they’re going to hit a “firewall”. One character thinks not, but that sure looks like one to me at the end. Theorist Aurélien Barrau is listed as “Cosmic Companion” or some such, and must have been responsible for providing the higher level of scientific verisimilitude than that of Interstellar (one of the images of a black hole does look like the famous one Kip Thorne provided for the earlier film).

I can’t really recommend this film to the average viewer seeking enlightenment or entertainment. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something unrelievedly grim, grotesque and disturbing, and really like black holes, maybe you should check it out.

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15 Responses to High Life

  1. David Appell says:

    Peter, is this the picture of a black hole, from Interstellar, that you have in mind?


  2. Peter Woit says:

    David Appell,

    Yes that’s it. The one in High Life is somewhat different, but similar.

  3. Jon Orloff says:

    Sounds charming. Can’t wait until it opens somewhere nearby.

  4. Pingback: RPAU ROUNDUP: #Highlife Movie Reviews | Robert Pattinson Australia

  5. tulpoeid says:

    Excuse me Sir, Interstellar didn’t have any spaceship with brilliant scientists.

    (You can tell I was annoyed by the naivety; however, it was admittedly “inspirational” to a wide audience, even though or, I’m worried, maybe because it “made no sense at all”.)

  6. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    Because I liked “Alphaville”, some joker at work deduced I would enjoy this too. Even encouraged me to skip an off-site with him to go see it. Yeah, no.

    I thank you doubly for the review.

  7. CWJ says:

    I hated Interstellar. Almost nothing about it made sense. The planet-destroying plague made no sense. The shuttle craft that can fly in and out of a massive time-dilation gravity well, but doesn’t work when moist. And worse of all, the effectively gobbledy-gook about the magical future aliens who rescue Matthew McConawhogivesafig. Yes, I recognized the words they were using–but they would be nonsense syllables to anyone not a physicist. It claimed to be physics, but plotwise, it functioned as magic.

    I did like the robots–non-humanoid, very interesting. And, actually, if they had ended the film when MM flies into the black hole, it would have been a much better film.

    Too bad High Life sounds bad, just in a different way.

  8. Petite Kabylie says:

    Dear Peter,
    How come there is no official trailer on YouTube for this movie?
    I can’t find any elsewhere either. Could you provide a link where I can get an idea about the movie before going to see it?

  9. Amitabh Lath says:

    Wow, black holes are now a movie genre! I remember my parents bought us fitted bedsheets from Disney’s “The Black Hole” (probably because they were cheaper than Star Wars ones and they didn’t know the difference). Then there was Lawrence Fishburne in “The Event Horizon”. Add in Interstellar and now High Life and pretty soon singularities will need their own agent.

  10. Peter Woit says:

    Petite Kabylie,

    As far as I know, there’s no trailer for the film. This may be related to it only recently finding a distributor. For more details of the film, see the Variety story I linked to, or here’s another one that just appeared

  11. Narad says:

    Wow, black holes are now a movie genre!

    I still recall 1975’s “Into Infinity” from the afternoon show NBC’s Special Treat.

  12. Jack Morava says:

    Claire Denis is an astonishing director, comparable to Tarkovsky,
    cf eg Solaris, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069293/

    Trouble every day, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0204700/
    for example is a kind of vampire movie;
    The intruder, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110171/
    is about loneliness, as is
    I can’t sleep, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110171/

    They are all haunting, perhaps not for the faint of heart…

  13. Jack Morava says:

    Sorry, my bad:

    The intruder, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0422491/

  14. Peter Woit says:

    Jack Morava,

    Thanks! I thought highly of some of the other Claire Denis films I’ve seen (so was looking forward to this one), recall in particular Beau Travail and Trouble Every Day. This film is definitely strongly influenced by Tarkovsky’s Solaris, the spaceship environment and use of flashbacks are similar.

  15. Christopher Sahnwaldt says:

    Looks like a trailer for High Life was published on October 12:


    Peter, Jack – thanks for the recommendations!

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