Movie Review : Vox Lux (2018)
Pop music changed a lot in twenty years. The implosion of the music industry and the rise to stardom of artists like Lady Gaga and Robyn arguably changed the game. It’s not shallow music anymore. Pop has a soul, now and it has earned it. Indie drama Vox Lux is a direct byproduct of this transformation. Written and directed by Brady Corbet, it’s a strong portrait of twenty-first century entertainment that uses pop music in order to make a greater point about the state of the game. It’s never quite clear what that point is, but it is being quite energetically made anyway.
Vox Lux tells the story of Celeste Montgomery (Natalie Portman), a young and talented singer who’s shot down in music class by a troubled student. He shoots her in the throat and leaves her for dead amidst of the ongoing carnage, before taking his own life. Being the sole survivor of the massacre, Celeste decides to sing her feelings about the events in a subsequent press conference and immediately conquers america. Fast forward two decades, she’s become a fiery superstar (and somewhat of a wreck) and old demons resurface before the first concert of her new tour.
The most important moment in Vox Lux is the opening scene, where Celeste and her classmates are shot down by their homicidal classmate. It informs the meaning of everything else. It’s an inception moment. A lost of innocence. A trauma that neither Celeste or anybody else can surmount. It robs her of her identity and authenticity. In the first part of Vox Lux called Genesis, Celeste becomes an avatar for resilience. She is packaged and commodified by a cannibalistic business who uses her trauma to sell a meaning for a product that doesn’t necessarily have one.
Sure, it’s not the most original point to make. But Genesis is riveting nonetheless. Young Celeste (Raffey Cassidy)’s transformation from normal young girl to underage sex icon is tragic because you can almost see her soul leak out of her body through that bullet wound, even if it’s constantly covered. It feels like she’s going through this transformation to protect herself and, to a certain extent, because that it’s what she’s supposed to want. She loses agency over who she is in the very first scene of Vox Lux and is never given the proper resources to regain it. There’s an inherent tragedy to her success.
The second part of Vox Lux is more confusing to me. It basically consists in grownup Celeste freaking out and having a mental breakdown before the first show of her new tour. Natalie Portman’s performance in Regenesis is great, but I’m not sure what it adds to Genesis. My best theory is that Celeste is literal and metaphorical at the same time. That she personifies the loss of innocence and artificiality that come with success. Not only she survived the shooting and became a pop star, but she has also become her songs. She only truly exists when giving people what they expect of her.
At least, I think this is what Vox Lux is about.
Anyway, I liked the movie. What Vox Lux doesn’t have in originality of purpose, it compensates for with slick execution and memorable performances. That’s not bad at all for a sophomore effort. It’s about a pop star. I don’t think it would’ve been if pop didn’t completely transform in the twenty-first century, like a previously said. But I don’t think that it’s about pop as much as it is about the loss of innocence in entertainment and our desperate quest for our leisure to be meaningful. It’s not a perfect movie (it’s half of one), but Brady Corbet has my attention, now. Man an write AND direct.
Vox Lux is a great show of skill, it’s just not his Shangri-La.