By exploring the cross between celebrity, school shootings, terrorism and pop music, “Vox Lux” is perhaps one of the most bold, often formally daring films of the year that certainly bites off more that it can chew.
The drama, set in the world of pop music, has so much on it’s mind. The ideas and themes in the film, along with the dark satire echoes the literary works of Don DeLillo, and actor/director Brady Corbert who has worked with such great auteurs in his career by having large roles in Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia”, Michael Haneke’s United States remake of “Funny Games” (2008), and Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria” shows great promise behind the camera. It’s certainly clear he shows competency and confidence here as a young director. You can tell he has taken a page or two from the masters he has worked with.
As the credits roll during “Vox Lox”, you might be perplexed in what you just saw. It’s a very bizarre film where you always feel something sinister lurking beneath a film about the complexities of celebrity and stardom. Natalie Portman delivers her most nervy and neurotic performance of her career in a film with ravishing cinematography, haunting music, make it a unique and fascinating experience.
In fact, the film very much echoes the uniqueness of a David Cronenberg and even a Richard Kelly film. I haven’t felt this perplexed with a film since Richard Kelly’s 2007 misunderstood masterpiece “Southland Tales” that also had a lot to say about the modern world war on terrorism, where this film is almost like a prologue and epilogue to pre-Columbine/9-11 world, and that aftermath of a post 9/11 world where terrorism has now reached a level of normalization.
The film opens in the year 1999, we open with a young teenage Celeste (Raffey Cassidy from “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”) where she is music class and a teen gunman enters in, opens fire on the teacher, shoots Celeste in the the neck, and ultimately kills her fellow classmates. She ends up surviving the horrific tragedy, but a bullet stays stock in her spine which leaves her taking pain education for the rest of her life.
In one of the most stunning moments in the film, Celeste along with her older sister Ellie (Stacy Martin) perform a moving song that becomes popular across the nation during the time of healing. A manager (Jude Law) who appears nameless takes her on and guides her to success in New York City where she ends up writing her own album, and opportunities to open up in bigger venues.
In the second chapter of the film, the year is 2017, and the film opens with a brutal terrorist attack of multiple gunmen shooting innocent civilians on a beach with are all disguised in masks that reflect the music video of the glamour mask Celeste wore in her first solo music video. Meanwhile Celeste is preparing for a big major tour, where she is trying to reconnect with her young daughter named Augustine (also played by Cassid), while trying to piece her life together.
In the second act of the film–yes another film with chapters and acts-Natalie Portman is in high gear where she rants, rages, and has mental breakdowns. Corbet explores the misery of press junkits, celebrity, and paparazzi. There is a great scene in the film where the press doesn’t want to focus on her new comeback album, but instead they would rather ask questions about the terrorist attack which is a parody of the world we live where music is now reduced to likes on Spotify and Pandora, and where most musicians only make the headlines if it involves controversy or scandal. The scene here shows the condescending nature of journalists and shows the unfair treatment of music and artists today.
The pop music in the film is by musician Scott Walker, and the pop songs are written by SIA, which gives the film a level of authenticity. Once the film ends with it’s finale, along with Willem Dafoe serving as the narrator gives the film a literary feeling that will leave you perplexed and unsure what you just watched.
Regardless, the film is almost like the anti “A Star is Born”, that explores the deterioration of celebrity and Corbet reveals how the media, masses, and culture treat fame. The film doesn’t have all the answers, but it certainly presses some thought-provoking questions that leave the viewer searching for their own answers in what they just experienced, and “Vox Lux” is certainly a unique piece of cinema that will linger in your mind upon viewing.