High Life ★★★★

Word had it that this was an abstruse beast of a film, but it seems to me a fairly straightforward metaphorical examination of how our embodiment defines and imprisons us. Working in English and in the sci-fi genre for the first time, Denis perhaps inevitably returns to pet themes here. The focus on routine as a life-defining mechanism through which we are constantly reminded of our bodies has been a constant throughout her career, and here those patterns of habit become an essential imperative, as the death row inmates that round out the cast are trapped aboard a space vessel that threatens to cut off life functions should they not check in with a computer terminal to report that there’s no trouble every day.

Early scenes of Robert Pattinson taking care of a baby seemed initially bewildering, but in retrospect a baby is a perfect metaphor for this film’s concerns. It’s entirely a creature that demands that its body’s needs be taken care of, though the other characters here are scarcely more evolved than that child when you get right down to it. This theme is extended in myriad ways, but easily the most memorable comes with a bravura sequence featuring a “sex box,” which is exactly what it sounds like… an automated machine designed to get bored crewmembers off.

In all, this is a meaty film, filled with images that represent a deviation for Denis. The flatness of the artificial lighting on the space ship ensure that this is nowhere near as sensual an experience as we’ve come to expect from the director, but this is certainly a film about trying to wring sensuality out of sterile environments. The degree to which it only uses the genre as a means to an end comes across as a demonstration that in a Denis film, authorial intent overrides all else.