High Life (Claire Denis, 2018)
This is not alas the big screen version of the classic Alan Cumming-Forbes Masson-Siobhan Redmond sitcom, but Robert Pattison is no Alan Cumming and Juliette Binoche is no Forbes Masson. What we have is sf that suffers in the name of art, with Silent Running, Stalker and Sleeper wizzed in the blender with a crapper version of The Black Hole dribbling out of the jug.
Because, after all, if you want to harness the energy of a black hole what you’d do is send out a prison shop and, er, a kennel ship. Because sociopaths and rapists and murderers make good pilots and know about Penrose mechanisms. Obviously this is a stupid idea, as a grainy flashback to a professor being interviewed on a train tells the slow ones at the back.
Equally obviously, as this wants to be a prison movie, this is all going to be messy and violent and since it’s heteronormative mixed company there will be rape.
But that sexual tension has been added to by Dr Dibs, who is milking the male prisoners to use with the wombs of the female prisoners — because that sort of thing happens in prison. And there’s an orgasmatron, which offers perhaps the most cringeworthy sequence I’ve seen since I was Lars von Trier.
Meanwhile we had Robert Pattison, the last survivor on the spaceship, aside from a baby girl who screams her lungs out whilst he takes EVAs and fails to secure tools with harnesses. He declares himself to be a monk, refusing to jerk off or use the orgasmatron, presumably lest his vampire nature emerges. And we see how he gets to survive through flashback.
To be fair, he is probably the best thing about the film, apart from some prettiness in the black hole, and Moon and Wall-E have done the last man trope better. Just try not to think how there will be clothes for a child growing from baby to teen size. And why either they hang around a black hole for at least fifteen years or leave that black hole in search of another.
Call it mission drift.
Call it four writers, none of whom can trump plot logic with striking concept.
That character’s going to do that but for some reason is lured into the space garden to be murdered by someone who then took their place and no one noticed despite all the CCTV?
Somewhere installation artist Ólafur Elíasson is in the mix, and he is a man who can make a yellow-lit room interesting, but not enough to save this dud. He had a yellow line as installation at the Fondation Louis Vuitton and called it Contact — not to be confused with the silly Robert Zemeckis adaptation of the Carl Sagan. Denis filmed it in 2014, before pasting it into her wait-weren’t-they-wearing-spacesuits-two-minutes-ago? ending.
But really you end with Robert Pattinson singing a song by Tindersticks — making me almost nostalgic for Joan Baez in Silent Running — and a credits crawl that doesn’t know which direction it wants to go in, and you wonder whether anyone knew what they were doing at all.