"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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High Life: A Review

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***THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!***

My Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. But be forewarned, even though it is in English, it is a very “French” film and is definitely at home in the arthouse. If you have conventional tastes in movies, this one is not for you, but if you are a cinephile defintely check it out in the theatre.

High Life, written and directed by French auteur Claire Denis, tells the story of Monte, a young man who is caring for a baby on a mysterious voyage into deep space. The film stars Robert Pattinson as Monte with supporting turns from Julliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin and Mia Goth.

Claire Denis, the writer/director of High Life, is the critical darling of French cinema and the American arthouse. Denis has a distinctive film making style that appeals greatly to film critics but that the general public often finds impenetrable. A good example of this is that her last film, Let the Sunshine In (2018), which starred Juliette Binoche and could sort of be described as a French/arthouse romantic comedy, has an 86 % critical score and a 29% audience score at the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.

Part of the problem with Denis work, at least for American audiences, is that if you market a film as a romantic comedy, Americans will expect a rather simple Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan cute fest and not the verbose philosophizing, existential thesis that is Let the Sunshine In. Expectations play a big part in audience perceptions and thus in the ultimate success or failure of a film.

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High Life may face the same marketing struggle as Denis’ other films, at least in terms of the general public. High Life is being sold as a sort of action-thriller, science fiction, space movie…in the vein of Ridley Scott’s Alien. High Life is a lot of things, but action-thriller is not one of them, and if audiences are aware of that and understand how to digest the film, they may come away with a greater appreciation for it…because there is a great deal to appreciate.

High Life is not Alien meets 2001, but rather is a beguiling, at times bewildering, dark, moody, existential and philosophical meditation on the meaning of life and what it means to be a human. The film is Claire Denis at her very best, using her signature style to create a deliberately paced, deliriously claustrophobic, non-linear dream/nightmare that is intentionally disorienting.

The film opens with Pattinson’s character Monte caring for baby all by himself on a space craft. The film then unwinds and reveals the who, what, when, where, why and how this strange combination of Monte, a baby, and deep space, came to be.

Being a parent is hard. Being a single parent is a Herculean task. Being a single parent in deep space is a circle of hell that Dante could never have dreamed up. Monte’s struggle to care for this baby is palpable, and as the child’s cries pierce through Monte’s space suit to his core, they also cut viewers to the bone. This scenario of the deep space single parent and the vulnerability of an infant, intensifies the suffocating sense of claustrophobia and heightens the ominous sense of foreboding that permeates the entire film.

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Pattinson’s work as Monte is extraordinary. Monte is a psuedo-monk, struggling to control his human desires in order to, ironically enough, stay connected to his humanity. Pattinson gives Monte a very specific internal intentionality that illuminates his every action and drives him through every scene. Pattinson is an actor I never would have given a second thought to after those dreadful Twilight movies, but his fine work in the not so good The Lost City of Z (2017) made me take notice. Here in High Life he commands the screen without ever demanding attention, in fact, it is Pattinson’s use of introversion bordering on camera shyness that make him so intriguing and compelling in this role.

The rest of the cast do solid work as well. Juilette Binoche as the witchy Dr. Dibs chews the scenery like a starving women hurtling through the universe looking for her final meal. Mia Goth also does notable work as Boyse, a destructive and self-destructive anima figure, the polar opposite of Monte.

Claire Denis knows what she is doing when it comes to making movies, and High Life is a testament to that. The film is technically first-rate, as the cinematography, particularly the framing and lighting, as well as the editing, are superb but never overwhelm the tone and theme of the movie.

High Life is deliberately paced, and may be too slow for more conventional tastes, but I found the film to be captivating to the point of hypnotic. Denis’ ability to disorient the viewer’s perception of space and time was a master stroke that simulates for the audience the psychological, emotional and philosophical vertigo that Monte must struggle with and through as he goes along his hero/anti-hero’s journey.

High Life asks a lot of questions but gives no clear answers, which is maybe why I liked it. There were no easy escapes from the void of space or the existential issues raised. Ideas as varied as human value, spirituality, morality, physical purity, incest, humanity, witchcraft v. science, and even cats v. dogs, all come up in the movie and propel the philosophical narrative forward, backward, up, down and all around.

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At the end of the day, High Life, like most space movies, is really an homage to, and imitation of, Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. High Life is no 2001, but to Claire Denis’ credit it is a very distant, but worthy enough, cinematic step-cousin, as it wrestles with the same question of human evolution and being born into, and cast out of, the Garden of Eden with nothing but our humanity to guide and protect us.

Space is cold and forbidding, and the struggle to maintain life amidst that black void is colossal, but not nearly as gargantuan (or heroic) as the struggle to maintain humanity. Monte’s evolution…which may result in being reborn the Starchild from 2001 or left to an eternity in the empty void of nothingness, lies on the other side of a black hole. He isn’t sure he is ready to make the trip…are you?

If you have the courage, and the open mind, I recommend you set aside your expectations and conventions and make that journey with Monte. Yes, there are some bumps along the way, the most noteworthy being a rather odd scene with Juliette Binoche (you’ll know it when you see it - it was the catalyst for two sixty-something women in my screening to make a hasty exit) that serves a certain and minor purpose but which goes on for a distractingly and interminably long time. But if you can simply get into the rhythm of the film, and not try and figure it out as it washes over you but rather experience it and all of the good and bad that comes along with it, I think you may find it as satisfying a cinematic experience as I did.

Again, this movie is not for everyone…even though it is in English, it is a very, very French film, and it reeks of the art house, so if you simply cannot or will not overcome your cinematic conditioning for clear narratives and resolutions, then you should skip this one. But if you are feeling adventurous and in the mood to contemplate the meaning of life and humanity amidst the unrelenting sea of darkness that is space, then gear up, strap in and take the plunge. You may find you enjoy the high life.

©2019

#MeToo: It's Not Broke, but You Can See the Cracks

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Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 48 seconds 

In the U2 song "All Because of You" off of their 2004 album "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" there is a lyric that goes, "I'm not broke, but you can see the cracks". That lyric kept popping into my head over the last few weeks as I followed the cavalcade of developments with the #MeToo movement. 

As my long time readers know, I have written extensively on the subject of #MeToo since the Weinstein story broke in early October ( linklink, linklink, link, link, link ). Early on in the story, I wrote what I considered to be a warning to the #MeToo adherents that their movement was destined to self-destruct because it was built on the sand of emotion and not a sturdy foundation of reason. Sadly, for my efforts I was routinely called lots of charming names like misogynist and rape apologist by readers who disagreed with my diagnosis. The following months though have proven my insights to be correct. If you have read my article, "Phases of a Sex Panic", you would be able to recognize that we are now deep into Phase Three of this current sex panic, with all the warning signs of #MeToo's decline due to decadence coming to fruition which will no doubt be followed by a backlash.

THE HIT ON AZIZ ANSARI

There have been a plethora of big #MeToo stories recently and they back up my predictions and hypothesis of #MeToo and its future. One big story was the Babe.com article which claimed comedian Aziz Ansari had "sexually assaulted" a young woman, Grace, with whom he went on a date. The reaction to the Babe article highlighted a gigantic rift in the #MeToo movement between generations. Younger women saw the Babe story as a tale of sexual assault while older generations saw it as "revenge porn" for a bad date. Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic wrote two Ansari articles (link, link) that were insightful and eloquent. Her takedown of the Ansari story is mandatory reading. Bari Weiss of The New York Times also wrote an Op-ed taking the Babe article and the claims that Ansari sexually assaulted his date to task. 

Flanagan and Weiss join Daphne Merkin (New York Times) and Meghan Daum (LA Times) as women who have written worthwhile pieces that challenge #MeToo and spotlight its very apparent shortcomings. Not to break my arm patting myself on the back (or to quote Bono from the song above, "I like the sound of my own voice, I didn't give anyone else a choice") but, I wrote pieces with remarkably similar themes regarding #MeToo months before these women ever considered writing their articles. I am glad my once lonely voice in the wilderness clamoring for reason and rationalism has now become a mini-chorus that includes other thoughtful writers, particularly females ones, because the topic of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment is too important to be left to the emotionalist and reactionary warlock hunters of #MeToo.

VIVE LA FRANCE

Recently, actress Catherine Deneuve and a group of French women wrote an open letter challenging #MeToo, and were joined by French film star Brigitte Bardot, who called the movement "ridiculous and hypocritical". In addition, French actress Juliette Binoche said something in a recent speech that I thought was incredibly important but received scant attention. Ms. Binoche said in relation to #MeToo that she WANTED to hear men's thoughts. This is in stark contrast to Minnie Driver and Alyssa Milano and the rest of the #MeToo mob that has consistently shouted men like Matt Damon down when they voiced their opinion on the subject.

The argument made by #MeToo and many neo-feminists is that men have no right to talk about the subject, whereas Ms. Binoche's argument is that men are as deeply involved in this issue as women, and so their perspective is equally valuable. The reason #MeToo wants to keep men quiet is because men might not say what they want to hear…like when Liam Neeson echoed my thoughts and called the movement a bit of a "witch hunt". I appreciate Ms. Binoche speaking up and out because I am constantly told by hectoring readers, or now former readers, that I should keep my mouth shut on #MeToo issues (and all issues really) because I am a straight, White, male. I have always found this line of attack to be so transparently infantile and foolish as to be absurd, but it seems to be the favorite fall back position for people who are entirely incapable of formulating and articulating a coherent logical argument. 

JAMES FRANCO IN THE CROSS HAIRS

Another big story were the charges of sexual misconduct against actor James Franco by his former girlfriend and some of his acting students. The charges against Franco and Aziz Ansari are so typical of Phase Three of a Sex Panic that it is remarkable. One of the claims against Franco was that while he was in a romantic relationship with a woman, Violet Paley, he allegedly took out his penis while they sat in a parked car together and motioned for her to perform fellatio upon him. The woman claimed she didn't want to do it but did because she "didn't want Franco to hate her". 

The Ansari situation was a date where the two people got naked, performed sex acts on each other and then Ansari kept asking for intercourse and the woman declined and so the date ended. Later, both Franco's companion Ms. Paley and Ansari's date Grace, claimed they were "sexually assaulted". It is objectively obvious that what happened to these woman may have been uncomfortable for them, but it was not sexual assault. In hindsight, these women regretted what they did and they used the #MeToo movement to turn their regret into revenge upon the famous men they felt treated them poorly.  

What the Franco and Ansari cases highlight is one of the things that disturbs me and the previously mentioned female writers Flanagan, Weiss, Merkin and Daum, and that is the embrace of victimhood and the reinforcing of a learned helplessness on the part of the women involved. As Caitlin Flanagan writes in her piece about Ansari's date Grace who was uncomfortable but didn't leave the situation, "have we forgotten how to call a cab?"

The dangerous dynamic being set up by #MeToo is that women are delicate, fragile flowers who have no agency and who need special protection. To me that is the exact opposite of what is required to change the predatory paradigm under which the sexual harassment and misconduct that #MeToo has so nobly highlighted once prospered. 

If women, like Grace and Ms. Paley, make bad decisions they must take responsibility for them, not use #MeToo to turn their regret into revenge because all that does is muddy the waters revolving around the issue of rape and sexual assault. For Ansari's date Grace to claim what happened that night was sexual assault is so outrageous as to be obscene, and is extremely disrespectful to women (and men) who truly have been sexually assaulted.  

STAR FUCKER

Both Ansari's date Grace and James Franco's former companion Ms. Paley strike me as women who fall into a particular category of person that is all too common in the entertainment industry. The Rolling Stones aptly named these type of people as "star fuckers" (see video below). I fully acknowledge that is an unkind term, but that doesn't make it any less descriptively accurate. In the cases of Ms. Paley and Grace, these women were interested in these men because of their fame and wanted to use that fame to their social advantage. When that didn't happen, their infatuation turned into affliction and they sought their pound of public flesh. 

THE SIREN'S CALL OF VICTIMHOOD

The Ansari/Grace story has highlighted the notion that the Siren's call of victimhood seems to intoxicate younger women much more than it does older ones, probably because older ones fought so hard to not be victims, while younger ones have grown up with victim status being exalted.

I have written previously about how tempting it is to turn any sexual interaction into a claim of sexual assault or misconduct when the payoff for that is unchallenged acceptance and identification with the archetypal energy of the victim. This approach may be emotionally satisfying in the short term for the individual, but is a death knell for the #MeToo movement in the long term. 

Women won't become safer from predatory men, or be more empowered with the #MeToo embrace of victimhood, but will only empower predators more. And by stifling male voices, and taking away female agency, women are inadvertently generating a dynamic that ultimately will increase the chances of harassment and assault happening, not reduce them.

Women do not need to be protected because they are emotionally slight and psychologically weak, they need to be empowered by acknowledging and celebrating their innate mental, physical, spiritual and emotional toughness and resilience. Women need to be taught from as early an age as possible that it is ok to be hated, that way when they grow up, they won't feel "coerced" into blowing a guy when they don't want to in order to avoid being "hated". Women also need to learn that their self-worth should not be determined by the fame of the man with whom they sleep. They also need to learn that their bodies are theirs to do with as they please and that they are responsible for the choices they make and the consequences that come with them. All of these things are things that women in the #MeToo movement and modern feminists would say they want for women as well, but their actions thus far do not support this long term outcome, in fact, they guarantee the exact opposite. 

LITTLE BILL MAHER MAKES A POINT!!

This past Friday I forced myself to watch Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. Maher is a vapid thinker and an insipid comedian, but I feel it is my duty to watch him so you don't have to. This week, something remarkable happened…I actually agreed with Little Bill Maher. I know, I know, I am just as shocked and horrified as you are. After having spent the last few years referring to him as "Little Bill" and claiming he enjoyed performing fellatio on members of the intelligence community establishment, here I was nodding in agreement with what that silly-putty faced douche bag was saying. I was so startled by this turn of events I sat for hours pondering if my thinking was wrong because Maher thought I was right. 

I agreed with Maher because in his "New Rules" segment to close the show, he did a lengthy bit on the #MeToo movement. Maher went through his argument and basically made the case that while he believes sexual misconduct is abhorrent and should be stopped, the #MeToo movement is damaging to that cause because it is emotionalist and anti-reason.

Upon further review I realized that the reason I liked Maher's bit and agreed with it so much is because I wrote the same exact thing many times over. In fact, it seems very clear to me that either Maher, or more likely, someone on his writing staff, had read my RT piece on the subject that coincidentally came out during his show's recent hiatus. The reason I conclude this? Because Maher uses the same argument, structure and the examples in his New Rules segment as I did in my RT piece and its recent update. Read my piece and then watch the segment below to see what I am talking about.

Look, I am glad people are finally coming around and listening to me, but if Bill Maher wanted to be ahead of the curve for once, he could simply throw me a couple bucks and I'd happily consult for his stupid show. Ok…to be honest it would take considerably more than a "couple bucks", and even then I wouldn't do it "happily", but I would do it….maybe…but I'd still call him Little Bill.

In conclusion, things are happening fast and furious with #MeToo. Stories break on the subject everyday, from Woody Allen to Michael Douglas to David Copperfield, there is always a new charge and a new headline. We are knee deep in Phase Three of this current sex panic and the cracks in the veneer of the movement are showing and growing. The Aziz Ansari story is NOT the "have you no shame" - McCarthyism stopping moment, but it is an important moment none the less because it reveals the deep foundational rifts within the #MeToo movement. Phase four and the inevitable backlash is a ways off, but it is definitely coming, especially with #MeToo adherents choosing reactionary emotionalism over nuance and self reflection. These are strange times, and they will no doubt only get stranger.

 

©2017