Directed by: Brady Corbet
Distributed by: Neon
Written by Jeff Sparks
“I got more hits than an AK-47 standard thirty-round magazine” pop star Celeste declares in a press conference following a mass shooting halfway through Brady Corbet’s meditation on fame, icons, art, and violence in our modern society. The film stars Natalie Portman, Stacy Martin, Raffey Cassidy, and Jude Law with narration by Willem Dafoe. Portman and Cassidy star as Celeste, a controversial pop singer who rose to fame following a tragedy with Cassidy playing a younger version of the singer and Portman the older one. Unlike her brash comments in the press conference, Celeste at one time had more concern for these matters when she wrote a song for those affected by the tragedy she was the survivor of. The song propelled her into becoming a beloved superstar before she would gradually lose her way from the corruption of power. Fifteen years into her career she is more known for her scandals than her songs. But to Celeste, she’s done nothing wrong. In her mind, her vilifiers only criticize her because they can’t be her.
Her cockiness comes from the way that the words and opinions of celebrities are treated in our modern society. Actors and performers are iconic in a way that sees them as larger than life. Every sentence they say is under a magnifying glass and the media will turn one wrong word into an extreme portrayal that doesn’t represent the person’s beliefs. So when Celeste’s first song became a national hit when she was still in high school, her life as she knew it practically became a reality tv show. Her early goals of wanting people to “not have to think too hard, just feel good” became degraded over time as her fame grew to a point where she must not only appear perfect in the eyes of the public but also be a role model who says what people want to hear after a tragedy. Eventually, this pressure bubble snaps, sending her into a flurry of scandals, one in which she hits a man with her car and then insults him. When asked about it in an interview, she redirects the attention to her by bringing up the injuries she suffered in the shooting that caused her rise to fame. This self-centeredness she exhibits is not completely of her own accord. The glorified significance of her beliefs molded her into this position. Celeste has a different persona as an artist and as a person. On stage, she’s often stressing about what to say and how to act. In private, she’s constantly spewing takes or insults that she would never say in public. In the film, Cassidy’s version of Celeste has no accent, while Portman’s does. To me, this choice by Portman is to represent Celeste’s requirement to put on a persona for the public that she didn’t have when she was starting out. A large part of Celeste’s success comes from her faltering public image but knowing her self-obsessed and artificial self, how much of what she says or does outside of her art really matters? This is the question posed by Corbet and co-writer Fastvold.
The experience of watching “Vox Lux” is a viewing experience like no other. Corbet’s meticulous direction in each act of the film perfectly set the tone and kept me engaged for all 114 minutes. With a healthy mix of static and handheld shots, the camera captures the energy of each scene in a way that makes each sequence feel unique without feeling separate from each other. The film couldn’t have asked for a better cast either. With Portman at her best, the support from Martin, Law, and Cassidy leaves nothing else to be desired from the players. The original songs written by Sia excel in making Celeste feel like a real artist. By being written by an actual performer, the songs sound like actual hits instead of sounding like hastily written “movie songs.” Celeste’s first hit “Wrapped Up” stands out in particular. While the music suits the film perfectly, the characters, direction, and avant-garde style of “Vox Lux” make for a truly great film that delivers an incomparable experience as it contemplates the pressure on artists in our contemporary world.
“Vox Lux” Trailer