If you’ve been paying attention to the news at all, you know that the last few years have seen a transformation of what it means to be a ‘bad boy’. Gone are the days of ‘bad boy’ cool; today’s ‘bad boys’ are bold, they’re brash, and they’re certainly not afraid to express their feelings. And this sentiment is exactly what has made the recent movies so unique and interesting.
Set in contemporary New York City, High Life follows the misadventures of a group of young people who decide to embrace their bad-boy status and live their lives how they want to. The story centers around lifelong friends Mercer (Robert Pattinson), Mac (Justin Theroux), T-Bone (Joe Pantoliano), and Rat (Christopher Walken), four New York City street rats who are on the brink of discovering life, love, and each other, despite their differences and challenges, both socially and mentally.
Breaking Bad Boy
One of the most well-known ‘mad boys’ of today is undoubtedly Walter White (Heath Ledger). The former chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin is responsible for some of the most memorable scenes in the series finale of Breaking Bad. Known for his intimidating stare and ruthless behavior, it is safe to say that Mr. White, as he’s dubbed in the series, was definitely a bad boy, and he lived his life to the fullest, often using intimidation to get what he wants. Even at the end, when he’s facing certain death, he still manages to be one of the most interesting characters in American TV history.
Also well-known for playing a ‘bad boy’ is Johnny Depp. At one point in his career, Depp admitted that he had played the part of a ‘bad boy’ in every role he’d ever had, including the title role in Edward Scissorhands, and it seems he hasn’t changed his ways. During filming of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Johnny and co-star Javier Bardem were reportedly so loud on the set that they attracted the attention of passers-by. And it seems that his ‘bad boy’ reputation has followed him into adulthood, as a 2018 documentary revealed that the 56-year-old is currently dating someone half his age. This sort of romancing, however, is fairly new for Depp; in the past, he’s been married to Vanessa Paradis and Kate Winslet, and it seems he’s found love again, this time with an actress much younger than he is. It would appear that Depp has decided to follow in his idol’s footsteps and play the part of a ‘bad boy’. We’ll have to wait and see if his choice in women ends up being as successful as Ledger’s was.
Another prominent member of the ‘bad boy’ club is Adam Scott, who played the iconic rock star Bon Jovi in the comedy series The Good Place. The 48-year-old actor is best known for his roles in Neighbors and The Martian, but he’s been playing the part of a ‘bad boy’ since his early 20s. Although he hasn’t always been painted in such negative shades, Scott was arrested in 2016 for assault after he allegedly physically attacked a photographer outside of a Los Angeles hotel. Fortunately, the charges were later dropped.
Wandering Bad Boys
The vast majority of today’s ‘bad boys’ don’t lead organized lifestyles. Usually found in Los Angeles or New York City, homeless and jobless individuals, many of whom are former gang members, have made significant efforts to lead a better life. Through a series of sobering events—often involving confrontations with authority figures—the men in question have slowly begun to rebuild their lives, trying to lead a more stable and purposeful existence. As a result, they’re frequently found on the streets, attempting to navigate this tumultuous world with a keen eye on personal safety and mental health. Although not always the most stable of individuals, their lives are frequently depicted as both exciting and adventurous.
High Life, which was written and directed by Michael Brandt, focuses on four such ‘wandering bad boys’, who are on the brink of discovering life, love, and each other, even as they struggle with issues of identity, security, and addiction, both physically and mentally. The film opens with the four friends, now in their 30s, roaming the streets of New York City, seemingly on the hunt for sex and adventure, in a quest to find their place in the world. After the screening, Brandt will be available to answer questions about the movie—including some from this very website!—and its intriguing depiction of a modern ‘bad boy’.
While many ‘bad boys’ of today are trying to better their lives, the traditional views of masculinity they defy, they are frequently defined by others, including in the media. Even today, it’s common to see articles about how ‘bad boys’ are ruining society—articles that attempt to paint this subculture as immoral and chaotic, often containing depictions of individuals engaged in violent or otherwise dangerous behavior. These articles, usually written by men, play a crucial part in perpetuating the stigma that surrounds ‘bad boys’—an issue that affects everyone, both inside and outside the subculture, and one that Brandt explores, challenging many of the preconceived notions about this increasingly present and important demographic.
Even in times of trouble, ‘bad boys’ have managed to find friendship. Through a combination of both mental and physical strength, a group of men who define themselves by their dissimilarities have managed to forge unlikely bonds of respect and admiration. One of the best scenes in High Life involves a startling revelation about one of the characters, which prompts the others, in turn, to confront this fear, or uncertainty, or both. With each other’s support, the friends are able to overcome their individual challenges and together navigate this new and often frightening world.
The story of High Life is, at its core, a coming-of-age tale, and a unique one, at that. Set in the stark and beautifully decorated main room of a derelict tenement building, the film perfectly illustrates, perhaps better than any other, the struggles faced, both externally and internally, by the young men who make up its principal cast. Between the overbearing social structure and the uncertainty that comes with self-identifying as a ‘bad boy’, it is a unique journey for these four friends, as they strive to discover who they are and what they want in the world, and to help one another along the way. Even now, eight years after its initial premiere, High Life continues to ring true, especially now, as the four friends, at last, find themselves at a crossroads in their lives, ready to make something, or someone, of their new identities and positions in the world. The future, whether or not these men will lead happy, stable lives, continues to be written—and as they say—on the pages of history.