Vox Lux ★★★★★

“One for the money, two for the show…”

In the year 1999, Celeste Montgomery (Raffey Cassidy) survives a mass shooting at her school in Long Island, New York. During rehabilitation, Celeste writes a song about her experience and performs it at a memorial service with her older sister Eleanor (Stacey Martin). The song instantly becomes a hit; an anthem for the grieving nation, and with the guidance of her talent manager (Jude Law), Celeste is transformed overnight into an international pop star.

Eighteen years later, adult Celeste (Natalie Portman) is indirectly confronted with a similar incident that threatens her reputation as an artist, all the while trying to dedicate time to her daughter Albertine (also played by Raffey Cassidy), and manage her eroding relationship with Elanor.

Following his ominous feature debut The Childhood of a Leader (2015), Director Brady Corbet returns with his controversial post-9/11 companion-piece, Vox Lux; a contemporary parable dissecting the inner mechanics of the entertainment industry and how the impacts of sudden trauma catapult one’s life into a chaotic destiny.

Both films observe the loss of innocence, the growth of cruelty over vast periods of time, and the inevitable destruction of a human being through social expectations and objectification. Corbet establishes a clear fascination with the making-of-a-monster in both stories, however, Vox Lux is stridently more ambitious through theme and insight, proving that Corbet is quickly becoming one of the most provocative auteurs working today.

His observation of Celeste is a pivotal illustration of extreme commercialism transforming a person into a product through environmental influences; a slave to society’s hunger for a universal connection through the creation her art, thus the path for her destiny is formed. Celeste’s abrasiveness as an adult is off-putting yet logical; having her childhood robbed within a blink of an eye, being forced into a lifestyle that was never chosen but selected for her, and being involuntarily crowned with the responsibility to act as a beacon of hope for the world crumbling around her. Consequently, there is a great sadness that oozes from her internalised fury and resentment which justifies her actions.

Raffey Cassidy plays young Celeste with controlled innocence; a survivor who is naïve enough to be influenced, but not enough to be fooled, and Natalie Portman as adult Celeste is electric; the jarring change in character from the girl she was, to the woman she becomes, is both terrifyingly accurate and disheartening.

By integrating Lol Crawley’s strong visual style, composer Scott Walker’s tongue-in-cheek score, and pop-star Sia’s original songs written for the film, Corbet orchestrates an artful examination of fame germinating from tragedy, the manifestation of one’s art created through physical and psychological damage, and the demands of pop-culture obtaining the power to create or destroy an individual.

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