Written for RAF News May 2019
Vox Lux boasts of being a ’21st Century portrait’, the subjective of which is a young girl who rises out of horrifying circumstances to become a pop superstar.
Divided into two distinct halves the film opens to 14 year old Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) returning from school break where she experiences an act of extreme violence. In the wake of tragedy, she performs an original song at a candlelight vigil that captures the pain experienced by her peers and connects with the public. The second half jumps ahead by 18 years to see Celeste (Natalie Portman) as she prepares for a concert in a packed arena.
Vox Lux is a success story on the surface but the distinct contrast in Celeste’s personality from adolescence to adulthood appear to condemn the very nature of success, more specifically its parasitic off-shoot: Fame.
Celeste receives our complete empathy in the beginning and when her talent is recognised there appears to be some karmic reciprocity at play. Wide-eyed and excitable she enters this world of studio recordings and music videos, but forward in time, becoming a global sensation and a single mother, she appears complacent and entitled, her narcissism fostered by her family, management and fans.
The two constants in both parts of the film are Celeste’s manager, played with a nice comedic touch from Jude Law, and her sidelined sister Eleanor, an increasingly empty Stacey Martin, who becomes mother surrogate to Celeste’s daughter and the silent partner who writes all of her hits.
The shocking imagery that is used to open Vox Lux, recurs once more in another act of extreme violence, and yet it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. The message might be that fame and infamy aren’t far apart, that the media is a monster-making machine, or it may be a comment on gun control.
Vox Lux is never boring but you want it to go further. It doesn’t give you many answers, which is great, but it doesn’t leave you with many questions either. The sparsely used narration by Willem Defoe seems to be an after thought intended to add weight. It struggles in the end to transcend the hollowness of the tacky aesthetic that it lavishes in throughout the final chapter.