Bare Life

High Life might well be the most radical film I've ever seen at a commercial (non-festival, non-arthouse theatre) screening. A friend suggested The Tree of Life as another possibility, and while true, Malick seems like a special case insofar as audiences more or less know what to expect: major movie stars reciting very strange poetry, and often overshadowed by grass and trees in the film's final cut. Because High Life was Claire Denis' first film to receive such a wide North American release – and her first entirely in English – I went in sort of expecting a diluted, "lite" version of Denis' aesthetic. Instead, what I found was one of her most challenging and provocative works, at a multiplex that normally shows superhero movies or the like on three quarters or more of its screens (and indeed, High Life was quickly slotted out by the latest Avengers sequel). Serendipitously, it's a film that truly deserves to be seen, and heard, at such a state-of-the-art venue, but which would normally be relegated to the margins. Surely this would've been High Life's fate if not for the presumed bankability of Robert Pattinson (he and Kristen Stewart are like real-life art-film superheroes, using their Twlight afterglow as long as it lasts to help get interesting films funded and distributed) and the sci-fi/space thriller genre in general, both manipulated by Denis in wonderfully subversive ways. It seems glib to call High Life "Trouble Every Day in space," but it's not wholly inaccurate. It's an extraordinarily visceral, tactile, and at times genuinely shocking film, using its setting and ostensible genre to evoke the extreme outer limits of the vulnerability and peculiarity of human life; and it's some kind of masterpiece.


This is a tremendously insightful article, by Clare Malone. FiveThirtyEight is at its best when it gets hyper-specific and balances contemporary data with the confluence of historical circumstances that subtly shaped that data. Both as an engaging piece of prose and as cogent sociopolitical analysis, this might well be the best piece they've published to date.