High Life

Poster Boy

It's the film Ed Wood wanted to make, and it's even worse than anything he ever did.
Reported on 8th of November, 2018

Before the screening, Mme. Claire Denis explained that her latest – High Life – was not science fiction. Her reaction came off exactly as she may have intended, and as many of the arty types before her, that genre was too mean to contain such an elegant and profound treatise on human behavior.

But there’s a problem with this ‘I will do SF like no one has ever seen (having seen no SF)!’ approach. The rest of the world, aside from the Critical Mass who adored this cinematic nonentity, has seen things besides Aki Kaurismäki’s latest borefest. Film, not surprisingly, is a language. Besides all the cutting and close-ups and music (and actually including them), you are referring to all the movies ever seen by the audience. Film is a mass medium. Don’t like it? Then write for yourself.

No, really. It’s fantastic. I couldn’t be happier. Couldn’t be happier unless you do it too. Because then I won’t have to see another one of your films and I’ll be ecstatic.

High Life

30 October 2018 @ UGC Les Halles

-$23.00 or, if one must be quotidian, and one must... 
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

§  §  §


It is incumbent upon the man who does write for himself, therefore, to make a list of films you should have seen. It starts with one you probably have:

White God

It’s really semi-science fiction, but it is just the kind of vague, underwritten, overwrought, nihilistic crap to which you’ve already nodded sagely and of which you have considered the profound implications. But you’re to see it once more, this time to paying attention to the concept of The Poster Moment.

See, also present at the screening was screenwriter M. Jean-Pol Fargeau, who explained that the film was conceived in the 1960s (yipe) as a single image ‘an astronaut holding a baby’.

It’s hard to imagine something worse than writing for the trailer, but there is something, and there he was, admitting it clearly: writing for the poster.

Writing for the movie? Keep on dreaming, dear reader.

One more thing, how are they ‘high’? That only works in relation to earth; space is three dimensional. Oh I get it. It’s a ‘play on words’. No like words good. That’s been my problem all along.

As with the truly hateful, and actually worse, White God, you come up with an image. Great. Now what? Well, you’ll just shoe-horn a lot of justifications for that one image, add a not-inconsiderable amount of filler, and you’ve got a script. Well, something that’s 90 pages long with stuff on it anyway.

(Un)fortunately, unwilling to sully her film with such an image, the poster contained no such shot. I was left to imagine our poor graphic designer leaving Space Man With A Baby as strips on the floor of her printing studio. This in turn caused me to look up the terms for the area you cut away, which are, apparently, ‘bleed area’ and ‘the gutter’, which in turn caused me to imagine

Untitled Claire Denis Project

the film where Mme. Denis gives us the dark side of lithography, where “It is important to show how people are feeling, even when they are brutal.”

Technically not science fiction, but by inventing the reality where it exists is. Actually, I just wanted her to have to sit through it.

High Life

Not technically science fiction either, but I have to relate the film’s first twenty minutes. In this alternate alternate reality, I definitely want her to sit through the first twenty minutes of a baby crying. Why it’s just like the café I’m sitting in now! Then the dead rest of the crew is thrown into space, and, naturally, since this film has a near precocious ability to do everything wrong, we cut to Two Years Earlier…


We’ve all seen Sunset Boulevard, and how it starts with the end. What a film, huh? All I have to do is copy that one aspect, and I’ve got a great film too. Problem is, that’s the only one people have seen.

People have not seen the utterly failed attempts at ‘Six months earlier’: After Earth or CHAPPiE or American Ultra. I have. Fronting your end only rarely works. In most instances, all it serves to do is signal that the movie is in trouble, that the existing premise isn’t compelling enough to just begin with and follow the story.

Existing premise? Wow, am I glad you asked.

Night Train to Terror

I’ll admit, few have seen this one. But this is another reason to see the bad films too; having seen it, I know never – ever – to include a professor on a train giving exposition to the audience. Yet, there he is, in High Life, doing exactly that. They actually put a character, not related to the story, telling the audience what was going on.

It was awkward.

Let’s relive it!

First of all, tell me…why are we on a train?
To imply movement.
Oooh, is that like constant acceleration?
What’s that?
Constant acceleration. It’s what Mr. Robert Pattinson uses in voice-over to explain the gravity on the space ship.
They have voice-over and me? How in trouble is this film?
It’s bad enough to think that gravity was the thing that most needed explanation. Speaking of which…
Exactly. I am here for a reason you know. I’m a professional expositionologist!
(muttering to himself)
Using voice-over.
Yes, tell me, Exposition Professor – what is this mission with which we have nothing to do, that involves characters with whom we will never interact?
I’m glad you asked Reporter As Audience Substitute. They’re prisoners on death row, given a choice to a dangerous mission or be executed.
That’s very edgy, to use science fiction as social critique. That’s only been done in All Science Fiction.
Just that one time. That’s right.
I was going to ask you. What are they doing up there?
Well, instead of telling you…
You’d like to show me, the way that film can?
Don’t be ridiculous. I’d like to have other characters tell you. The mission was so vague and preposterous that, to survive the experience, Scott imagined the pitch meeting for the mission in front of people who would fund it. Let’s watch…
How would we, how do we even…
                           CUT TO:
Film within a film! This has never been done before!
We are in the offices of FUTURE SPACE PROGRAM as a SCIENTIST pitches to a room of receptive SUITS.
I got lots of ideas. They’re all great.
We’re listening. We have a LOT of money.
Okay. Okay. Okay. OKAY. So…They’re going to a black hole to see if it’s like bad.
These prisoners. Do they fly the ship?
Well, like one of them does, but he dies, and then, like, I don’t know. The ship can just fly. It’s a ship! Okay?
So what does the rest of the crew do?
That’s not important, man! You’re not paying them, so they don’t have to do anything.
This part makes sense. We are evil. Just by sending them into space it will demonstrate the social commentary bonafides of the film.
Wait, no, wait. It’s coming to me. The thought I already had. No. Okay. There’s like another experiment. Mme. Juliette Binoche is trying to find out if women can get pregnant.
SCOTT (Voiceover)
Just so’s ya know, this really is the other ‘story’ of the film.
Who said that? Who said that?
This is all fantastic, and you’ve almost got the money, but if these are experiments. How will we know the results?
Don’t be so square, man. They can’t communicate with anyone. You know, to sell the isolation of human nature and stuff. So, you can’t.
A beat.
(sacks of money on the table)
Here’s one billion dollars!
With a condition.
I’m not submitting to peer review.
Don’t be ridiculous, I’d like to send another ship up, but…
The one suit spreads out a single jazz hand, as if conjuring a rainbow.
…filled… with dogs.
To do what?
To provide the remaining characters an example of How Dire It All Is.
A long beat.

Right. Here’s another one…

Silent Hill 2

Didn’t play that, didja? Having a ship with doggies and no crew, for the truly sophisticated, invokes only one thing: Mira, the dog who was behind it all in Silent Hill 2. Yes, after the end of the video game where you have no ammo and are constantly bitten by the undead, you discover, much to its deliberate preposterousness, that the whole thing was a scheme run by a shibu:

You wanted to make me sad and really ponder things, with all those dogs abandoned in space? Well, too bad, Mme. Denis, for all I could think about was Mira. Who is adorable.

And that’s why it’s good to know about genre. So you can actually survive films like yours. By playing scenes like this in your head, but still.

Furthermore.. while a film within a film has been done, who has done an essay about a video game within a film within a film within an essay? No one, that’s who!

I’m the first! Like Neil Armstrong!

The beat continues.
Dogs in space? I…
(obvious pause for effect, replete with fake expression that he might not love it…)
…LOVE it!
We’re evil!
Somehow EP and RASS have been watching the scene.
They seem satisfied.
They look around. With all exposition expositioned, there’s really nothing for them to do.
An awkward silence.
You know, I have Tron on my phone.
(instantly suspicious)
Which one?
The good one.
Oh, thank God.
They start to watch the film, which, though terrible, is better than High Life.


At some point after in the aforementioned nonsense, Mme. Binoche masturbates in a 1970s sex-booth. By another critic who has evidently not seen any other films either, and this definitely goaded me to write on this cinematic non-event:

With an achievement of this calibre it’s hard to resist hyperbole: High Life contains the single greatest one-person sex scene in the history of cinema.

This scene is not that for two reasons. Three, if we count Dorothée’s take that enough with the women masturbating to penetration. I don’t care about that, but I do care when I’m watching a scene that simply goes on and on. I would have checked my watch, but I don’t have a watch anymore, so I just hit command-option D to time-stamp the notes.

Three minutes? Maybe they were really were traveling near light speed.

Sorry, that’s a relativity joke. So see


Okay. Fine see some

Interstellar Memes

save yourself some time. It’s a big list.

My second problem is that after Mme. Binoche is finished with the most-impressive-to-people-who-don’t-watch-anything-but-shit-art-films-sex-scene, Mr. Ewan Mitchell arrives as the next in line for the sex booth. Why not, I reasons, being that this was the sex chair featured in

Burn After Reading

have the man ride the sex chair? Men as sexual objects? Don’t be insane. I’m post-modern, not actually unconventional!

Then comes the parade of the human darkness, etc., etc. in which Mme. Denis includes some rapes and suicides and the ship full of dogs (I wasn’t kidding), and then Mr. Pattinson and Ms. Jessie Ross fly into the black hole that is totally like mystical and stuff…


…wow. You haven’t seen 2001?. Well, that’s okay. It’s not that great.

And before the final of actually counting now five suicides, the father-daughter pair kill themselves, saying, and I quote,


Shall we?


Ah, simplicity of dialog to imply great weight. In real writing, the shorter the line, the greater the effort required. Never has ‘fin’ seemed so pretentious.

Which is how you say something with just one word.

At the end, we visit the film that Mme. Denis most need to see:

Plan 9 From Outer Space

There are two reasons Mme. Denis should have seen this film. The most distracting aspect of High Life, after all I’ve related, remains the sets. I’m going to do something I rarely do, which is pull a still from the film.

As taken during the part of the ship’s duties that involve…sitting in front of a fan.

Looks like, well, a cheap set. Not unlike, say this:

Like any good set, it shakes when you touch it.

This was the real tip-off for Mme. Denis’ contempt of genre. I know, it seems to say, we’ll make it ordinary. We’re making a virtue of our low budget!

These are people who simply didn’t know that the effect of seeing blank walls and short corridors is distracting, not ‘grubby’. Grubby ain’t cheap, which you would know if you had seen

Blade Runner

Not even Blade Runner, huh? Okay, sure. I’m starting to believe that this film really isn’t science fiction.

When you have films like Upgrade and Pi looking much better on much less, you feel like the effect was intentional but accidental at the same time, not knowing that this lazy design choice wouldn’t make space seem everyday, just the filmmaking. And back to:

Plan 9 From Outer Space

With lines like ‘I’m totally devoted to reproduction’ and comparisons to Christ, High Life is exactly as pretentious as it is precious as it is content-free. They should have seen more Ed Wood, not just for the sets, but to note the effects of faux high-brow dialog:


See, not so easy to get inside you.
My body obeys me.
The dialog. The metaphors are too subtle! How will I ever plumb its depths! I’m too stupid!


I brought back Exposition Professor. As Scott Substitute.

How different, then, from: ‘The grief from his wife’s death became greater and greater agony. The home they had so long shared became a tomb, a sweet memory of her joyous living. The sky to which he had once looked was now only a covering for her dead body.’

With a bit of talent and star-power, this is the film that Mr. Ed Wood was so desperate to make. And it’s considerable less lively than anything he did.

The Take

This is weird to say, but Mr. Pattinson is great. It’s a measure of an actor much improved from Cosmopolis and to be good in a film this truly terrible.
Photography, given the limits of what it was required to photograph.
In the camp column the image of a floating Mme. Binoche corpse (killed herself because she was slightly wounded with a shovel. The shovel represents…) had me suppressing laughter like I was at a funeral. The one in Ed Wood.
Total Profits
p/p is extraordinarily high with this one. How is it that critics like this? Ah, right. Another group who doesn’t watch ‘movies’.
The number of suicides by cop-out is a record five (@$2.00 per…)
It’s a film that does not age well. After four days.
Total Losses


Thoughts on High Life

  1. Dorothée says:

    So many typos baby!
    I remember the candies this time, it was ice-cream, you had a Bueno cone 🙂
    Aki Kaurismäki is a remarkable film director, I’m sorry he bores you.

  2. Scott Scott says:

    He’s unremarkable at boring me though, so that’s…unremarkable. I hope I see a good Kaurismäki film someday, but given my reluctance, I’m just glad I don’t know him and have to talk about ‘how good the photography was’ after an awkward screening. Likewise with Mme. Denis. Roger Ebert did the same thing, keeping distance from the filmmakers. And I’m totally doing it the same way – intentionally.

  3. Dorothée says:

    Well yes, photography is the only thing I could have been prepared to praise Denisat the Premiere, it wasn’t too bad and I did enjoy how well Robert Pattinson’ s face was filmed. Unfortunately, if you are going to be pretentious, you should at least be good and innovative and she did not venture off the beaten tracks; she served us with a stereotypical male-centred degrading female masturbation scene. Another sex scene showing Pattinson being mounted in his sleep by a sperm-seeking Binoche was nauseating and very boring.

    “have the man ride the sex chair? Men as sexual objects? Don’t be insane. I’m post-modern, not actually unconventional!”

    I am so happy you wrote the above and agree that if she wanted to be original, she should have placed a man in the dildo booth.Thank you for that.

    Denis seems to have extremely traditional toxic ideas about sexuality, and I’d hesitate to watch another one of her dodgy rapey films.

    I’m still looking for pioneering, interesting, beautiful and respectful sex scenes in films, I’ll keep looking 😉

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