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Alone, together

by Dr Christopher Chapman, 12 March 2019

French film director Claire Denis slowed manhood to machine rhythm in her 1999 movie Beau travail (good work). This was the dreamlike story of life in the French Foreign Legion, in Africa, under the heat haze of an indifferent sun and glare of an impassive sea. Stripped to the waist, the bodies of her male actors lost their individuality. They were joined together in endless exercise drill tempo. Here were persons isolated, together.

Grégoire Colin and Denis Lavant in Beau travail

In her newest movie High Life, Claire Denis once again places her characters, observably men and women, in a scenario where they are isolated, together. Where the sun and sea were expressionless before, now the edge of the solar system quietly pulses as their rudimentary spaceship drifts towards a black hole. Actually, the spaceship is travelling at almost the speed of light. On this ship, water molecules are recycled, fabrics are darned by hand, and plastic containers are re-purposed. Pumpkins grow in the small garden; the garden is like a nucleus in a cell. The voyage is a form of group-solitary confinement for its occupants, outcasts from Earth repurposed for scientific use. The ensemble cast circle each other. The actors Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche stretch human interaction into an ellipse.

Robert Pattinson and Scarlett Lindsey in High Life

From the beginning of the film, we know the end. Only Pattinson’s character and his daughter, born aboard ship, remain. His own sense of self, his own individuality, now tied to hers. They are indivisible. Not alone. Together.