Vox Lux Natalie PortmanYear: 2018
Director(s): Brady Corbet
Writer(s): Brady Corbet
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Rating: R
35mm, Color, 110 mins

Synopsis: An unusual set of circumstances brings unexpected success to a pop star. (Source)

Whereas most films seek to encapsulate or look back towards a moment in time, Vox Lux is nothing less than the heartbeat of our generation. It’s the definitive story about the world we’re living through right now. Director Brady Corbet uses candy-coated gloss to help us swallow a bitter pill, filtering modern tragedy through a pop art lens. He also captures a heroine who’s as flawed as she is infinitely complex. More than a fictional biopic, the final product is a transcendent outlet of cultural fears and hopes. At the center of it all, Natalie Portman turns in a career-defining performance, giving birth to a cinematic icon who embodies the state of the zeitgeist.

In 1999, Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) is a teenager with big dreams and a modest upbringing. Her life is violently changed when after barely surviving a school shooting. Though she survives the encounter, it’s not without physical and emotional scars. In the aftermath, Celeste and her older sister, Eleanor (Stacy Martin) create a song about the experience which catapults her into stardom. Flashforward to 2017. Celeste is now in her 30s, a decadent pop star with international acclaim who’s imploding by the minute. To her fans, she’s a pinnacle of glamour and beauty. To the world, she’s a self-destructive celebrity scapegoat. As Celeste gets ready to release the definitive album of her career, she’s forced to face her somewhat estranged daughter, Albertine (also Raffey Cassidy), and the long-suffering Eleanor who raised her.

Just like the multi-faceted Celeste, Corbet’s film is an unclassifiable experience. Broken into two contrasting acts, the story’s through line is a woman who is literally everything to everyone. She’s a living god, cultural figurehead, punching bag and even a mother with demons in her closet. Most of all, she’s a survivor. Celeste is such a powerful anchor. She’s never less than mesmerizing from start to finish, and is someone who can read the room and use it to her advantage, even while drowning in her own excess. With a character who bares the weight of the world on her shoulders, Corbet explores disparate elements with undeniable humanity. Peeking behind the curtain of celebrity, we’re left with the fact that real lives exist beyond each torrid headline or soaring melody of pop escapism. The bigger picture pieces together a cosmic cocktail of past, present and future, colliding into a sober reflection of the world we live in.

Vox Lux review Natalie Portman Raffey CassidyHeadlining Corbet’s focused study, is an ensemble at the top of their game. As the most fully formed version of Celeste, Natalie Portman makes the film tick. From the moment she takes the story’s second half into overdrive, Portman is giving herself fully to Celeste. As Portman cements the duality of Celeste’s clashing ideas, she creates someone we fear, pity and want to cheer for. There’s a very fine line between all of these things, and it goes without saying that without Portman, the film would crumble. Just as powerful, is Raffey Cassidy. Bringing dual roles to the film, Cassidy’s casting is inspired, bridging the gap between past and present. She’s also got incredible chemistry with Portman when playing her daughter, Albertine. You can tell this is the start of big things for the young actress. Her talents give the film the lift it needs. On much smaller but equally as integral roles, Jude Law and Stacy Martin each get moments to shine, making Celeste’s inner circle come alive and adding poignance to the effort.

Vox Lux is as hypnotic and ambitious as they come. It’s big in scale, but intimate in terms of focus, celebrating a heroine who can get back up no matter how many times she hits rock bottom. Throughout all of the duality, narrative symmetry and a thoughtful collision of violence and art, is a beating bloody heart. Corbet’s film opens up the zeitgeist and allows it to resonate like an exposed nerve. For some, it’ll definitely hit too close to home, but it’s also a necessary observation that’s bold and brave. It’s also sad and haunting while also burning bright with hope. This is critical reflection we need now more than ever, and it strikes like a lightning bolt striking straight into our soul.

SG