There’s quite a lot going on in director Brady Corbet’s 21st-century portrait; it’s incredibly dense, not necessarily in a dreadful way but not quite in the way of a steady progression either.
Synopsis: In 1999, teenage Celeste survives a violent tragedy. After singing at a memorial service, Celeste transforms into a burgeoning pop star with the help of her songwriter sister and a talent manager. Celeste’s meteoric rise to fame and concurrent loss of innocence dovetails with a shattering terrorist attack on the nation, elevating the young powerhouse to a new kind of celebrity: American icon, secular deity, global superstar. By 2017, adult Celeste is mounting a comeback after a scandalous incident that derailed her career. Touring in support of her sixth album, a compendium of sci-fi anthems entitled “Vox Lux,” the indomitable, foul-mouthed pop savior must overcome her personal and familial struggles to navigate motherhood, madness and monolithic fame in the Age of Terror. (Elevation Pictures)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Jude Law, and Raffrey Cassidy
Writer: Brady Corbet
Director: Brady Corbet
Rating: 14A (Canada)/R (United States)
Running Time: 115mins
Whichever way you want to look at it, the overall scope of the film is undeniable and it fires shots that are blunt and fast. Exactly what a film like this needs to be successful. Throughout Vox Lux, we follow a subtly musically talented teenage girl named Celeste (Cassidy in Act 1 and Portman in Act 2 and 3) over the time span of 17 years, chronicling how a violent tragedy shaped her world and defined her as a human being.
To give credit where credit is due, Corbet’s narrative and presentation tactics were surprisingly tasteful when presenting the aforementioned unforgettable tragedy that would play a significant role in the story. This aberrantly intense scene focuses on echoing hallways, distant pleads and terrified expressions rather than blood and gore for the sake of being controversial. Lol Crawley’s incredibly bleak and distilled cinematography adds another layer of fear here as did Corbet’s delayed cutaways just after the massacre began. These choices, made within the first few minutes, mind you, add emotional confliction and the different ways we’re able to interpret art, no matter how inhuman they seem on paper. While this may not be the most accurate interpretation, this cut felt like some very dark, morally depraved, pitch-black comedy.
It was shocking to discover just how empathetic and sympathetic Brady Corbet’s writing truly is, seeing as how it’s accompanied to a film that introduces you into a hopeless, formal world – where exposition is spoon-fed and the colors are cold. As the narrative goes on, the characters on screen reconcile with their tragedy, slowly but surely. One of the most poignant being a fairly voyeuristic shot, as if you’re observing the events through a cracked open hospital door as you’re passing by. Celeste is being carefully embraced by her older sister, Eleanor (Stacey Martin), as she attempts to verbally comfort her simultaneously. Her words start off cloudy, as she appears to be venting whatever is running through her brain and what she would do if Celeste died during the shooting.
However, her words turn into more of a comfort than an uncontrollable slur as the scene progresses, which provides Celeste with invisible comfort and thoughts of how to get the whole town to reconcile. Corbet is not afraid to be inconsistent, due to the fact that the reactionary patterns of human beings under stress are exactly that. They aren’t invisible, they lose track of life, they fall into drug abuse to cope, they can’t face the music until the orchestra screams; they are human. Vox Lux contains what is most likely the most accurate portrayal of subconscious self-destructive behavior related to tragedy and the undeniable trauma that follows.
Corbet shreds everything in his path to pieces and none of us are safe from him. The film’s main criticisms on the music industry and the condescending viewpoint it has of its audience eventually branch out into modern day desensitization and how media-exposed children end up while evolving in the limelight, especially when accompanied with a fractured past that was never quite made whole again. Nevermind how it playfully dabbles into music-related stereotypes about hardcore rock and generic top 40 bangers. It’s truly a spectacle for the ages and despite some minor tonal inconsistencies and the narrative’s tendencies to be sporadically manipulative (which is mostly par for the course when it comes to these types of narratives, although its immediate vibe is settled as the narrative progresses), it is still one of the most important films of the year.