Friday, March 15, 2019

Fear and Loathing in Outer Space: High Life

Robert Pattinson in High Life.
 
Despite having seen Trouble Every Day (2001), nothing could’ve prepared me for the savage nihilism of Claire Denis’s High Life (2018). Set in a future when humanity sends its death row convicts into space for science, the film centers on the crew of ship #7, headed by de facto leader Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche) and ostensible moral leader Monte (Robert Pattinson). Their primary mission is to explore the possible use of black holes as an energy source, making it for all intents and purposes a suicide mission; a secondary objective is revealed when Dibs forcibly impregnates the women via artificial insemination with sperm donated by every man but Monte: to answer the question, "Can human life be created in space?" The answer is always no, because of irradiation – almost always.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Sea Wall/A Life: Putting It Together

Jake Gyllenhaal in Sea Wall/A Life. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Sea Wall and A Life are a pair of monologues, each about forty-five minutes in length, that form a double bill currently at the Public Theatre. The first, written by Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), features the English actor Tom Sturridge as Alex, a photographer who loses his eight-year-old daughter Lucy during a family visits to father-in-law’s oceanside summer home in France. The second, written by Nick Payne (Constellations) and acted by Jake Gyllenhaal, links the deterioration and death of the father of the protagonist, Abe, to the birth of his child. Clearly a strenuous set of workouts for the two actors, they’re also an emotional endurance test for the audience. That they combine to form a satisfying evening in the theatre is less a result of the themes they have in common (loss and grief, the relationship between a parent and a child) than of the ways in which they contrast each other. (An incidental commonality between the two halves of the double bill: both reference the TV show ER.) One is set in Europe, the other – in this production, at least – in America; one is a spare single story, the other a cross-hatching of two stories; one is a portrait of the walking wounded, the other the attempt of a man to find meaning by connecting the two essential narratives of his adult life. So although A Life inevitably echoes Sea Wall, their distinctness from each other suggests the hugeness and variety of the experiences of death and of parenthood.