‘Vox Lux’ review: A tragic yet ironic take on fame and the traumas that can lead you there
Natalie Portman’s newest film, ‘Vox Lux,’ is a jarring look at a traumatized young girl whose unexpected leap to fame changes her life forever
‘Vox Lux’ is one of those films that when it ends, you sit in your seat for a few moments and are not exactly sure how to process or feel about what you just saw. The story spans over seventeen years, beginning in 1999, in what is assumed to be a re-creation of a Columbine-esque school shooting. In an eighth-grade classroom, a troubled boy abruptly enters the room killing the teacher instantly and shooting as many students as he can.
However, one girl named Celeste (played by Raffery Cassidy) refuses to show fear and anger towards the shooter and attempts to talk him down, a painstakingly terrifying and brave moment. Just when you think Celeste may have gotten through to him, he fires again striking her in the neck.
The bullet wound that hit her spinal cord very well should have killed her, however, Celeste survives and with the support of her older sister Eleanor (played by Stacy Martin) she begins to channel her pain through music. At a vigil at the school for the victims of the shooting, Celeste is asked to speak, but instead she expresses herself with a song that she wrote, making everyone awe this talented and wounded young woman.
Immediately after the performance, she is approached by a gritty New York talent manager that wants to make her a star. Her song quickly becomes an anthem of strength, garnering praise and admiration from people worldwide that are connecting to her message. Celeste, her sister and manager (Jude Law) then travel to Europe to record her first album and do the necessary to make her a star.
Through montages of partying, drugs and boys way too old for the 14-year-old, it’s clear Celeste is quickly embarking on a downward spiral. However, it all comes crashing down on 9/11 when Celeste walks in on her sister and manager in bed together. Celeste is horrified by what she saw on the news and also by the sight of them together. Through the narration by Willem Dafoe, it is revealed this is the moment Celeste’s innocence is gone forever and she embarks on a journey to the dark side.
Sadly, we don’t really get to see Celeste’s downward spiral and true loss of innocence as the film then jumps from 2001 to 2017. Celeste (now played by Natalie Portman) is a worldwide phenomenon, giving what is assuredly very purposeful Lady Gaga and Katy Perry vibes. Celeste is now jaded, aggressive and angry with the world and has a young daughter (also played by Cassidy) born not long after the events of 9/11.
The present-day narrative takes place over the span of just one day, which is when Celeste is set for a big comeback show in her hometown. Still with the same slimy manager and her daughter being raised by her sister (whom she has resented since the events of 9/11), Celeste is now a hot mess, to say the least.
She is also dealing with a PR nightmare as she does press before the big show and it just so happens there was a terrorist attack that day in Europe in which the assailants wore her trademark look - a bejeweled mask - during the attack.
As Celeste takes the stage after going on a bender with her manager, it’s made clear something tragic or shocking is about to take place - but it never does. Through Dafoe’s narration, there is a final line that hints at what was really going on beneath the surface throughout this entertaining, yet bizarre film. The credits roll in silence and questions remain unanswered, which makes this ending as frustrating as it is poetic.
The performances were great, mainly from Law, who truly transformed both his look and his demeanor, so much so at times he is almost unrecognizable. Portman was engaging and even a bit creepy with her performance, making it hard to like this extremely flawed character. Cassidy was also great, truly a star in the making, however, it was hard to tell her two characters apart, which was likely done purposefully.
As far as the film’s direction, Brady Corbet certainly made interesting choices that were at times hard to understand, but regardless, the film made a statement, it’s just unclear what that statement was really meant to be.
‘Vox Lux’ will hit theaters nationwide December 7.