"This paper analyzes Claire Denis’s first English-language film, High Life (2018) and the effects of spatial-temporal drift on filmic and human bodies. Set in the not distant future, the director’s interstellar story tacitly evokes the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and Stanley Kubrick, yet the look of High Life departs from the familiar stark white palette of the science fiction genre colored instead in earthy sepia-tones and kaleidoscopic colors. When the opening credits appear, nearly twenty minutes into the film, five bodies encased in space suits fall through the frame, preserved in their final stillness against the vacancy of deep space. A broader reflection on the effects of loss and exile on humanity, the film also expresses the productive contradictions of time in a time-based medium.
This talk proposes to explain how Denis dismantles the notion of time as successive through her emphasis on the contradictory temporalities caused the black hole’s intense gravity. Through elliptical editing that flashes back and forth from the present-day of the travelers’ orbit to aleatory glimpses of the distant past back on Earth, Denis emphasizes the power of deferral and delay, which foreclose any possibility of return to a world that would have elapsed long ago. In this way, the film could be said to complicate the time image, which, for Gilles Deleuze, makes the passage of the present visible while simultaneously preserving the past in itself. High Life, I suggest, represents the severing of the past from a present that is stilled by the distortion of gravitational pull. Through close visual analyses of the film’s retro-futurism, elliptical editing, and interior framing, I show how the filmmaker collapses time images upon one another, blurring distinctions between space and time in the flow of overlapping images."
- Elisabeth Hodges
Elisabeth Hodges is Associate Professor and Graduate Director of French and Affiliate of Film Studies at Miami University. She is the author of Urban Poetics in the French Renaissance (Ashgate, 2008) and numerous articles space, place, and eccentricity in Renaissance literature. Her current research focuses on contemporary film and artist’s cinema and she has published articles on The Wire and on Godard’s JLG/JLG. She is currently completing a book manuscript on the poetics of drift in contemporary art film.
Sponsored by the Department of French Literature, Thought, and Culture