The ambitious and provocative film begins at the height of tragedy, with a disturbing nod to the real-life 1999 school shooting that haunts the fiction Corbet creates. A young Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) is the only survivor when her classmates and teachers are killed before her eyes. She lives, with a bullet now and forever lodged in her spine, and we have to deal with the consequences.
To reckon with the trauma, Celeste performs at the wake for those who lost their lives. She sings a song with her sister Eleanor (Stacy Martin) when words aren’t enough. Call it exploitation or see it as perversion, something clicks and the tribute to a tragedy gives way to the next part of her life when the song goes viral. Celeste is a phoenix in pain, rising from the ashes as a worldwide prodigy, shedding only glitter as she goes.
The template of an artist in agony is well-used, but not with as much fascinating design as in Vox Lux. The film cuts out the narrative outline with a sharp knife, which digs deeper than the uplifting rise-fall-rise-again structure the genre usually favours. Celeste is both the product and perpetrator of an ideology built on her own performative identity that never rests.
Natalie Portman is unhinged and mesmeric, Raffey Cassidy her daughter and the ghost of childhood trauma
Corbet deals in fastidious, pious levels of drama. There’s nothing subtle about the holy structure anchored by the shadow of death and rebirth, narrated by an ominous voiceover that’s almost laughable in its theatricality. But it believes in itself almost as much as Celeste’s posse believe in their star. All grown-up, adult Celeste (Natalie Portman) is unhinged, unafraid and completely unaware of how ridiculous she looks. The sparkling iconography of her garish brand has inspired another mass shooting. She’s forced to talk about it in a media appearance, and unravels with pathetic and inconclusive answers.
The relationship between pop music and terrorism isn’t one that inspires healthy debate, nor one that Corbet offers a conclusive answer for. Vox Lux exposes the tenuous links and dangerous effects of art and violence, without necessarily making sense of it. The audience looks at Celeste from the outside as she unravels and reacts to what a world of violence has made her become. We’re never in her shoes but she can't help but tread all over ours.
Celeste curses and punishes the people who try to love her: her sister (still Stacy Martin) who writes her songs; her daughter (now she's Raffey Cassidy as well); and her manager (a growling Jude Law) at once paternal and poisonous. Her popular identity is one of propaganda; Celeste is an annoying but undeniable force of nature, who inspires hope to a sea of fans and hatred to an audience that can't deal with everything she has to offer. ‘I’m the new faith’, she levels. You’ve just got to choose whether you're a believer or not.
Reviewed at the 2018 London Film Festival. Vox Lux will be released in cinemas in the US on 7 December 2018. The UK release date is yet to be confirmed.
|What||Vox Lux film review|
03 May 19 – 03 May 20, TIMES VARY
|Price||£ determined by cinemas|
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