“Vox Lux”, the second feature film from edgy director Brady Corbet, is disturbing and anxious, yet luminously gilded. From a nest of tragedy, hope blossoms and finally dissipates in tinsel. The main character, Celeste, played by Raffey Cassidy (Tomorrowland, Snow White and the Huntsman), as young Celeste, and Natalie Portman (Black Swan, V for Vendetta), as adult Celeste, enjoys a story arch that opens in her teens and closes in her early thirties.
The opening scene that blows open the narrative of Celeste’s life is startling, brutal and unapologetic in its realistic portrayal of a school mass shooting. As the scene played out I gasped more than once. The violent opening starts you on an unpredictable ride, the ending of which is absolutely inconceivable. The storyline leads you along Celeste’s path as she rises from the ashes of death and tragedy to ride the dragon of pop culture as a bright, shiny and fragile vessel.
The movie is made up of vignettes that are each divided by a synopsis narrated by Willem Dafoe. They are a matter-of-fact and creepy manner to his interpretation, but then, he is Willem Dafoe. Every episode places Celeste deeper in the plot, older, and closer to the center of unrelenting fame. The first part of the story recounts her meteoric rise as she is sucked into the pop music industry and molded for success. Her manager, played by Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes, The Young Pope), who is nearly unrecognizable in this role, shepherds her through these narrows of pop stardom as Eleanor, played by Stacy Martin (Nymphomaniac, High Rise), her sister, acts as a guardian of sorts for Celeste. Celeste’s relationship with Eleanor frays under the pressure of her burgeoning success and the relentless pressures of road life. Celeste’s manager becomes the nexus of her survival for the next decade in the crazy bejeweled world of pop stardom.
Once this is established, the story moves through her remarkably successful career as a singer to focus on the fading glory and disappointment of a has-been. This is when Portman assumes the role of Celeste as an adult. This is where we dig in to get a close-up of Celeste, a real character study of the person she has become.
Portman offers a powerful performance that is startling and lacking any artifice of a demure little flower she might have once been. Her performance takes the bloom off of being a pop star, grinding away the glamour and the glitz—a life that might have given way to gentle sweetness has rather than become one occupied by fragility, anger, and bitterness. Portman’s portrayal is powerful and engaging. It’s a combination of insecurity and narcissism drenched in an alcohol bender, with a jigger of rehab.
The latter part of her story is tied together by another tragic event mirroring the earlier that affects Celeste. Here we have Celeste interacting with her manager, her sister and her daughter, played by Cassidy, bringing continuity to the cycle of life. This offers the most salient insight into how she interacts with her family and her manager—the narrative exposing all of her warts and wrinkles and they are far from pretty. We examine Celeste’s inner workings, viewing her disassembly—a vivisected anatomy of the pop star’s lifestyle. And we wonder, “Is worth it?”
At one point, we think, “She’s 30 and she’s already done. The end,”— vacant and dark, it is filled exclusively with her self-interest and it is fantastical: it is Celeste’s life. “Vox Lux” then paints a moving and unvarnished view of a pop phenomenon, in the twilight of a career, in an attempt to revamp a legacy and redefine an original vision. “Vox Lux” is the glitter, glamour, and dreams that floods the glorious stage with Luciferian light!