By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Natalie Portman soars as troubled pop star ‘Celeste’ in Vox Lux – an imaginative and brutal commentary on pop stardom and its ability to be reborn through the tragedies of others.
Directed by Brady Corbet, Vox Lux chronicles the rise of pop star ‘Celeste’, played by both Raffey Cassidy and Natalie Portman, after the young New Yorker suffers a spinal injury from a horrific high school shooting.
Staten Island locals Celeste and her sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) sing a song at a memorial service for fellow high school students which catches the attention of the nation after a live television broadcasting, including the attention of a hot shot manager, played by Jude Law, who seamlessly floats between brutally honest a*hole and empathetic father figure.
The chemistry between Law and Portman is fantastic, as it was in 2004’s Closer, which is the last time the two worked together. There’s one particularly playful and entertaining hotel room scene that feels like a tribute to that hyperlapse sex scene from A Clockwork Orange… and then there’s the accents. Wow.
Considering this is Corbet’s second film, the actor-turned-director behind The Childhood of a Leader seems incredibly comfortable with crafting characters that are both memorable and transformative. Cassidy’s younger ‘Celeste’ is a naive do-gooder obsessed with the ‘endless tunnel’ of uncertainty in her future after recovering from such a traumatic experience.
Later, in 2017, we cut to Portman’s Celeste having a brief and awkward lunch with her teenage daughter while sipping wine from a plastic cup, mere moments away from temper tantrum. Corbet’s choice to cast Cassidy again in the daughter role was ingenious, as if Celeste, now a damaged victim of fame, is sitting having lunch and confessing to her younger self.
When Celeste reaches the height of her fame with rebirth/’regenesis’ album ‘Vox Lux’, as narrated by Willem Dafoe which gives the film a very nice fairy-tale touch, a terrorist attack in Croatia propels her fame even further and the pop star is forced to deal with the guilt of unknowingly causing or contributing to the atrocity in some way.
Although it’s somewhat left in the dark, it seems Corbet is commenting on the undeniable link that exists between pop culture and violence, and maybe even referring to the real-life Ariana Grande situation in Manchester where the pop star was unsure of how exactly to deal with the aftermath of the attack at her concert. However, the director’s true motivations are left to be rather ambiguous and also get a bit lost in the final scenes that are so awash with glitter and pop glory.
Honestly, Vox Lux is one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year. Portman is just electric and it’s near impossible to take your eyes off her, even when she’s mid-tantrum. The film is also masterfully presented. Arresting visuals and the provocative blend of Scott Walker’s haunting score with SIA’s pop anthems just make this film stronger.
Catch Vox Lux at Prague International Film Festival Febiofest this week.