Women & Horror: Bodies, power and taboo in Claire Denis’ ‘High Life’

One of the opening scenes in Claire Denis’ High Life shows the main character, Monte (Robert Pattinson), baby-talking the word “taboo” to his baby daughter, Willow (Scarlett Lindsey). They are alone on a spaceship, and the scene is initiated by Monte’s discussion of how people do not eat their own body waste.

‘High Life’ Review – Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche search for meaning in the depths of space

The opening moments of High Life are jarring in their dissimilarity. Here we are on a hollow, almost completely abandoned ship out in deep space with a set design echoing the third act of Alien, and renowned French filmmaker Claire Denis chooses to first expose you to an organic garden aboard the craft, dripping with life and potential sustenance. From there, we hear a baby’s coos ringing through the empty hallways, and only a distant voice over the radio — belonging to Monte in a lead role by Robert Pattinson — can hear the infant’s wails as he’s outside in a spacesuit repairing the hull, only one fatal mistake away from falling into oblivion and dooming not just his own life, but his daughter’s.