Mia Goth and Robert Pattinson in the beautiful but bleak “High Life,” which will confound “Twilight” fans. (Alcatraz Films)

Mia Goth and Robert Pattinson in the beautiful but bleak “High Life,” which will confound “Twilight” fans. (Alcatraz Films)

Robert Pattinson takes another giant leap away from mainstream

The former heartthrob plays an astronaut in Claire Denis’ peculiar but compelling sci-fi outing.

Robert Pattinson continues to sprint in the opposite direction from movie stardom, a fruitful path that has taken the actor from his sleepy-eyed, sparkly skinned vampire in the “Twilight” pictures to working with filmmakers such as David Cronenberg and Werner Herzog.

And now, to Claire Denis, one of Europe’s most uncompromising directors. Pattinson, with his slightly alien presence, fits right in to Denis’ dreamlike universe. The movie, in fact, is set in the universe: Pattinson plays Monte, an astronaut on a spaceship that will never travel back to Earth.

He’s not quite a regular astronaut. Without giving the entire plot away, let’s just say that Monte and others aboard have been selected for an experiment.

Heading up the study is Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche), a sex researcher, whose approach to her subjects is both clinical and sensual.

Whenever I write about Binoche (last seen in another Denis film, “Let the Sunshine In”), I invariably talk about how this fearless actress seems willing to do anything for a movie. In “High Life,” with a scene involving Dr. Dibs “riding” some kind of robotic sex machine/mechanical bull, this statement is truer than ever.

In customary Denis fashion, the film is not conventional. We trip back and forth in time, information is doled out sparingly, and the atmosphere — both image and sound — tends to overwhelm whatever storytelling might be intended. The spacey score is by Stuart A. Staples, from Tindersticks.

Other travelers on the spaceship are played by Mia Goth (“Suspiria”) and Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000 from Outkast). There’s also a toddler, whose role will expand, especially when the film reaches its eerie conclusion.

“High Life” is difficult to track as it unfolds; only after the movie was over did I start to piece together the purpose of its different parts. Or accept that some of its pieces have no purpose, except to create an almost palpable world of frustration and exploitation aboard the ship. It’s a puzzling experience, but it sure gets under your skin.

So many science-fiction films, though futuristic in content, unfold along familiar lines. Shouldn’t a sci-fi film take a new form, the way “2001: A Space Odyssey” did? I get the feeling that “High Life” might look perfectly normal 50 years from now, when we all just watch movies on devices implanted in our skulls.

And Pattinson? He’s good: believable as someone with a heavy past, but with enough glimmerings of humanity to suggest he could be the new Adam in the next Eden. In a movie that might not have been made without a bankable star attached, this is quite a leap for a former heartthrob.

“High Life” (3 stars)

Robert Pattinson plays an astronaut stuck on a spaceship where a very peculiar experiment is taking place. Director Claire Denis brings her usual dreamlike, atmosphere-heavy approach — a puzzling film, but it sure gets under your skin. With Juliette Binoche.

Rating: R, for nudity, violence

Showing: SIFF Uptown, Lincoln Square

Talk to us

More in Life

Screen printed dish towels available at Madrona Supply Company on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022 in Clinton, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Do some good along with your Christmas shopping

Head across the Sound to Whidbey Island for gift-buying with a do-gooder spirit

Caption: If you can get past the itchiness factor, wool garments warm you up and last a lifetime. (Jennifer Bardsley)
In praise of wool, the fiber that saved this California girl

It may itch, but you can’t beat a wool sweater for warmth. And it’ll last a lifetime.

The towering Basilica of Our Lady of Fátima sits at the head of a vast esplanade. At the top of the steps, a covered open-air altar, cathedra (bishop's chair), and pulpit stand ready to conduct Mass to the thousands of pilgrims who come to celebrate the Virgin of Fátima on the 13th day of each month from May through October.
Rick Steves on Fatima, Portugal, a testament to the power of faith

Whether you’re a devout Catholic or just a curious gawker, the place is a marvel and worth a visit.

Is your partner grumpy? Here are some antidotes to consider

No. 1: Wait until your grump is in a good mood to talk to them about their grumpiness.

Double-billed by Avis for a van returned after hours

When Robert Cipriani returns his Avis minivan, he expects to pay $1,770. Instead, Avis charges him twice. What happened, and how can he get his money back?

The 2023 Chevy Trailblazer has a useful 25.3 cubic feet of cargo capacity when all seats
are occupied.
2023 Chevrolet Trailblazer subcompact is big on style

There’s a selection of engine choices, front-wheel or AWD, and CVT or nine-speed automatic transmission.

Conor O’Neill racks freshly baked baguettes Friday morning at The Cottage Community Bakery in Edmonds, Washington on September 30, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Grain to Table: An Edmonds bakery’s sourdough makes flour ‘go local’

In an industry dominated by conglomerates, bakers at The Cottage work under the motto, “EAT REAL BREAD” — literally.

Weather, rain, geraniums: A gardener gives thanks

Take a minute and reflect on what you are grateful for in your garden, and then share the gratitude with your fellow gardeners.

Festive Christmas wreath of fresh natural spruce branches with red holly berries isolated on white background. New Year. Top view. Traditional decoration for Xmas holiday.
Get in the holiday swing of things — make a wreath

Area garden centers have the greenery and equipment so you can make a one-of-a-kind decoration for your home.

Most Read