"Vox Lux": The Traumatic Birth of a Star
The disparate worlds of pop music and modern violence are brought to a collision in writer-director Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux. In analysing Celeste’s rise to stardom, the many-faced fame monster is laid on a glittery slab and dissected before our eyes. Despite commendable artistic ambitions, Vox Lux fails to find sure-footing in both style and its subject. However, the final product is still chillingly entertaining.
This contorted coming-of-age drama is steeped in brutality. Celeste – mononymous from the off – must contend with a school shooting in the film’s earliest moments. As she dares to negotiate with the armed assailant before her, her remarkability becomes apparent. Although she is unsuccessful, she does survive – an intervention which would be the first of many divine allusions. In the remainder of the chapter aptly entitled ‘Genesis’, we follow the adventurous, formative experiences that shape Celeste’s propulsion to prominence.
The ‘Regenesis’ era is then ushered in with much change. After a sixteen-year time jump, the conventional biopic-like storytelling is substituted for a style that resembles Iñárritu’s Birdman as we follow a day in the life of Celeste, now a fully-fledged pop diva. But the violence remains ever-present. The launch of Celeste’s sixth album coincides with a terrorist attack halfway around the globe. The tragedy becomes personal as the perpetrators don masks that mimic her iconic fashion.
Celeste’s long arc is littered with many challenges. As a child star, the exploitation is often implicit but easily assumed; the scenery of Celeste’s recurring, post-trauma dream is crudely commodified to become the setting for her music video. As an adult, and under the pressure of public scrutiny, substance abuse threatens to derail her career.
Encumbering Celeste with almost every stereotype of the celebrity lifestyle trades a unique identity for an easily identifiable one. From her sharp attitude to her sequin-bedecked jumpsuits, she resembles Britney and Gaga and many more all at once. Because Celeste is presented as an amalgam of chart-topping stars, taking her seriously as a character is difficult.
But this is not entirely a misstep, for this characterisation, coupled with superb performances, drapes Celeste in an alluring energy. As the ‘caterpillar’ Celeste, Raffey Cassidy delivers an essential, innocent confidence. As the ‘butterfly’, Natalie Portman is compelling and wicked; she would be a scene stealer if anyone else was putting up competition in commanding the frame.
The remainder of the main cast comprises of Jude Law (reliable as ever as Celeste’s manager) and Stacy Martin (as Celeste’s older sister and songwriter). Their consistent presence grounds a muddled film; the tentative desire to imitate a biopic confuses the tonal flavour, and Willem Dafoe’s narration is overbearing and out of place.
Vox Lux is an intense addition to Hollywood’s recent pop obsession. In further service to its myth-like storytelling, the film comes full circle. The heart races during the opening school shooting sequence, and races again as Celeste closes the film with a glorious performance. If only Vox Lux itself could be as triumphant.