Director: Christian Petzold
In a film already renowned for its sudden explosions of brutality, its flirtations with transgression and taboo, and its images of a nude Binoche writhing on a stainless steel dildo, Monte’s salvation is High Life’s true reason for being. I use that word, “salvation,” with only a hint of irony. While the film draws on any number of sci-fi and prison film conventions, High Life is classic speculative fiction in that all of the narrative mechanisms—cosmology, astrophysics, violence, reproduction, the ethics of crime and punishment—are interlocking pieces of an ontological/theological puzzle box.
“We invented rituals,” Monte says in voiceover while scraping shavings from his beard into a pile. When he and his shipmates prepare a crew member for cryogenic storage, one of them tosses a handful of dirt onto the dead woman’s chest. “It’s what she wanted!” her grieving friend cries. Tcherny (André Benjamin) sits with Monte in the Edenic garden where their food is grown, his bare toes touching the soil, and espouses a kind of vague, secular mindfulness: “This little garden is teaching me to enjoy the present. That’s all that matters.” Another character mimics the motions of Christian prayer that she glimpses in random transmissions from Earth because she wants “to know what they feel.” Monte is compared with a monk; Dr. Dibs (Binoche) is a witch and a shaman. The drive to understand the universe and humanity’s place in it, and the compulsion to ritualize that understanding and build tribal identities around it, is inescapable it seems, even beyond the edge of our solar system.
about choosing to live one more day
And so Monte makes his report, choosing to live for at least one more day, and then finds his way to Dibs’s lab, where his infant daughter is waiting. Denis composes them in a tight frame, with Pattinson leaning toward the incubator and her small hand gripping his finger. She holds the shot for nearly a minute and then cuts to Monte, who has made his decision. “I’ve got tears in my eyes,” Denis told an audience, as she described that moment. “Suddenly his life is changing forever.”
It’s worth remembering that, against all odds, the final line of the film—the answer to the question “Shall we?”—is “Yes.”