‘Fame doesn’t fulfil you. It warms you a bit, but that warmth is temporary.’ – Marilyn Monroe
When various pop stars come onto the music scene, people around the world develop an insatiable desire to know everything about their backstory and life. Social media has made instant stars of people with talent or those who happen to be in the right place at the right time to become a global novelty. Director and writer Brady Corbet (The Childhood of a Leader) attempts to show the unique collision of situational and musical fame with the rise of the fictional pop star, Celeste (Natalie Portman), in the musical drama, Vox Lux.
In 1999, a lone gunman entered a Staten Island, New York high school and murdered most of the students who participated in the music programme. Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) was one of the only survivors of the horrific event and with the help of her sister, she writes a song for the memorial service for the victims. The young vocalist’s performance gains national recognition and her song becomes an anthem that helps the nation to deal with the grief of the tragedy. Her abrupt introduction to fame leads to a rapid trajectory toward a music deal and the eventual rise of her star in the music industry.
Celeste becomes one of the most recognisable stars around the world and experiences the extreme highs and lows of the lifestyle that is associated with this type of stardom. While she is preparing for a comeback tour in 2017, two incidents occur that change the focus of the tour and the music icon’s life. On the world stage, a terrorist group guns down tourists on the beaches of Croatia and use an element of her iconography to force a response from the artist. As she works through the reaction of this international incident, Celeste must work through significant issues with her daughter and sister. Both incidents have the potential to derail the resurrection of her career and reputation, causing her support publicity and management team to go into overtime to do all they can to save her career and sanity.
Shot in a documentary format and with the narration of Willem DaFoe, Corbet manages to deliver a disjointed, but compelling story about the multi-faceted aspects that can influence an artist. The actor turned director manages to capture an unnerving depiction of fame and how the life of these stars does not occur within a vacuum.
The director capitalises on the distinct juxtaposition of Celeste’s unconventional rise to public notoriety and her loss of innocence coupled with the look ahead to the impact this incident had on the young singer after 17 years in the industry. He exposes the vicious nature of fame on the life of those who may have the best intentions upon arrival at the door of stardom. The emotive opening moments of the school shooting through the sister’s journey into the music industry does establish the heart of the film. Raffey Cassidy manages to capture the innocence that makes this journey believable and endearing, providing the type of star who music fans would quickly love and follow.
The second act introduces Natalie Portman as the aged star and a continuance of Jude Law as her manager. The harsh realities of the rock star’s eventual decline of her grasp on the realities of life and the co-dependency of her support team could be described as quiet brilliance, but proves to be ultimately repulsive. Then to have Cassidy return as Celeste’s daughter and the additional concert footage shows that the young director fails to know when to conclude the film. Delivering a story that has a clear agenda to draw attention to the destructive nature of modern fame, but failing to bring the message home to rest.
Despite the strength of the performances and the unique storytelling found in Vox Lux, this fictional, but the biographical account does lack any lasting appeal. The fault can be detected in the destructive nature of the title character and her dark spiral into fame. The story seems to articulate that audiences might desire for this wounded and tragic figure to succeed or at a minimum provide a catalyst for sympathy, but instead she proves that just because someone may be wounded at different stages in life that this does not make them likeable.
Living an existence as a victim of tragedy could not mask her selfish, self-destructive and abrasive nature. The film could have been an expression of someone overcoming great odds and changing for the better, but what begins as a story of rising above hardship turns into a journey of painful self-destruction. Celeste is set as the protagonist in this tale, but turns into the antagonist and in the end, proving that it is impossible to separate the two. The real answer to life’s questions that she seeks is found by addressing her ‘heart-status’, not her physical state.
Passages that describe the heart-state of mankind? Jeremiah 17:9-10, Mark 7:21-23, Luke 6:45,
The solution to mankind’s ‘heart-state’: Psalm 51:10, Mark 12:30, Romans 10:10