Higher Education

My first year film class is split up into little rooms and scattered over the globe from the US to China, I’m trying to get us all together to view and discuss a film on MUBI, a platform which is free to film students. I’ve chosen Claire Denis’ THE HIGH LIFE because I want to see it and haven’t gotten around to it yet. It ends its run on MUBI today, I believe.

Looks like you can GIFT a viewing of the film to a friend also if you watch it on MUBI.

So hopefully there’ll be a lively discussion in the comments section. First-time commenters will not see their remarks immediately, I have to clear you first, so don’t worry if it takes a little while.

I liked the film — like a lot of art films it’s equal parts beautiful, confusing, frustrating and disturbing. I was concerned that the science was junk but I googled it and there is some theoretical basis to the idea of harvesting energy from a rotating black hole. But I’m not going to be the first to try it.

The song at the end convinced me I really liked this.

If this works we’ll do it again. If not, I’ll try and work out improvements.

Obviously, regular Shadowplayers are more than welcome to chip in here too.

And here is another essential bit of Denis to play us out:


5 Responses to “Higher Education”

  1. Claire Denis, why do I know that name?

  2. Adam Ryan Says:

    I enjoyed getting to know Claire Denis’ cosmic microcosm. This was my second time watching High Life and it felt like a recurring dream. I knew provocative and specific imagery was coming but the film’s non-linearity meant that I still found myself succumbing to the its meditative allure. The one moment that frustrated me on initial viewing was that the Earth plot of the professor and conference was mentioned and then abandoned. This time I let it pass. It felt like the film’s progression towards its climax, similar to the shuttle’s progression towards the black hole, only rendered these Earth moments more irrelevant as they ebbed away into gold dust. Denis makes a convincing case for nihilistic black hole exploration.

  3. Bryce, maybe from the Blondie song?

    Adam, welcome to Shadowplay! The professor (I was trying to identify the actor, I knew I knew him — Victor Bannerjee! Long time no see) was an odd scene, but I was grateful for a bit of information doled out in a straightforward way. I can be too literal sometimes and this movie was a challenge to that.

    It has very weird writing credits, two writers (one of them Denis) then an Additional Writing credit and then a Some More Additional Writing credit buried in the end creds, plus some odd credits for inspiration and whatnot. That scene felt like it had been written by someone else entirely. And shoved in to get Polish financing.

    But it’s the kind of odd, fragmented thing that can absorb disconnected bits like that.

  4. Woah is my first reaction to this piece of cinema. I’ll try and explain why.

    I remember when I first heard about the film beginning to hit the festival circuit and had seen some of Dennis’s work before and knew Pattinson was really beginning to lift off his career in the ‘Arty Film’ world. I was quite annoyed at myself that I didn’t quite get to see it on the big screen, even after using an HDMI cable to link up to my large screen TV, I think a much, much larger screen would have allowed me to delve much deeper into the films visuals. Alas.

    I would definitely say that this film is hugely ‘Arty’ but in a quasi-subversive fashion. When most people look at student films they are often amateurish and lack key production design(Or lack of a budget to create detailed sets, especially any genre that isn’t household or social-realism. What defines this film I think is that it has this way of seeming to be this slightly larger budget student film in the disguise of a larger arthouse picture. Which in my humble opinion is what makes this film pure art.

    It reminds me of watching graduate films from directors who manage to squeeze one of their shorts into a masterclass (Would have been handy if I could reference a specific one, I’ll check my film log later and re-comment). The shorts would often have their key characteristics of style, continuity, camera work, framing and characterisation techniques employed to bring out the key emotions from the actors. I think of watching Christopher Nolan’s first short back-to-back with Ridley Scott’s after they had graduated.

    Both films, although different from what they have both now produced were essentially the goo and spark of life that then founded their careers somewhat. That feeling I’ve attempted to describe is how I felt about this film, in a very positive way. I’ll explain some more.

    The film’s mildly grainy footage and semi-archive vibe that features drastic close-up cutaways, or the ‘Framing within a Frame’. With slight camera fluidity and amateurism being placed together to get a somewhat dreamy mashpot of colour, framing and character connectivity.

    Harking back to production design, the sets look as if they are appropriate for the film but again fall into the semi-budgetess look for a student graduate film. Everything there has a purpose but the sense of a set being built and deliberately made for the purpose of becoming a film is ever-present. It is a style I quite enjoy I personally makes me appreciate the style even more.

    Again, thinking of Ridley Scott, the production design feels as if Alien(1979)’s dark, grungy and archaic/outdated-late 70s-steam-smoke and well SPACE has been intertwined with a more laid back and somewhat interpreted French New Wave attitude. Everything is minimal (Mostly but not always consistent) but again serves a purpose and I can’t help but appreciate it. It gives an emotional depth to the story that I think might be noticeable but for me definitely helped me enjoy the story far better.

    At the end of the day, I would say this is one of the best arthouse sci-fi films I’ve ever seen and I’m gutted I didn’t have the chance to see it in its prime on the big screen projected on film.

    It reminds me of a more modern and more stylised Silent Running (1972) but with a newness to it and the student-ish quality making it a great cinematic gem.

    Thanks for reading and best wishes,


  5. Silent Running is definitely a reference. The movie doesn’t need its space garden for plot purposes, really, so it’s mainly a movie reference and maybe a biblical one.

    I was sometimes a bit taken aback at the desks and washing machine tubes, which didn’t totally convince me, but it was interesting how the really didn’t bother to stop it looking fairly earthbound. The spaceship itself is just a big box, so why shouldn’t the rooms be the same?

    Pattinson really is coming into his own. I should rewatch Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis but I recall not quite feeling he could sustain a whole movie at the time. He certainly can now.

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