Jake’s review published on Letterboxd:
“In my dream I know that I’ll never die...”
“What’s at the end of the tunnel?”
“I always wake up before I get there. I am so frightened because I’m going somewhere no one can find me. Where no one knows my name,”
Vox Lux is an enigma, wrapped around mystery, inside a Pandora’s box of glamorous tragedy. It’s one of those movies that gets you so wrapped up (haha) in everything that you find yourself perplexed the whole way through, and by the end, you feel like you’ve witnessed some sort of religious apocrypha. I described the film as ‘apocalyptic’ in my first review, and I think there’s no word better than that, even if it still doesn’t quite do the experience justice. If I could describe it in terms less vague (albeit only slightly) then I’d say the movie is a horror film where the none of the horror is seen, only FELT.
Reading reactions to Vox Lux is interesting because it’s a movie that’s almost impossible to pin down if someone else will like it or not, regardless of how much you know about their taste. I had many amazing cinematic experiences last year, I was rendered awestruck and horrified by Suspiria, I was intrigued and highly skeptical throughout Under the Silver Lake, I was both frustrated and amazed by Burning, but Vox Lux was perhaps the most unique experience I had at the movies. It burned itself into my brain in the way Suspiria, Hereditary, And Annihilation did.
2018 was kind of a strange year for cinema in that respect, it was rampant with wild and unpredictable movies that were exercises in raw creativity. And just like those other movies I mentioned, Vox Lux may not work for you. It’s tone is hard to pin down, somewhere between pitch-black dark comedy and preternaturally unnerving is the sweet spot that film occupies. While I hate the label, this is a movie that’s gonna be labeled as empty and pretentious, and to some extent I get it, but pretense isn’t an inherently bad thing, it’s a quality, which can either be good or bad depending on a lot of things, even though I don’t think a lot of it is present here. The movie is a bit too focused for that, but it’ll still turn people off. It has a very gaudy, very bombastic sense of style and framework that will put people off. We can see elements of Lanthimos, Von Trier, Lynch, Kubrick, filmmakers along those lines, which is a fair gage to see whether or not this will connect with you. The story itself is very straightforward, but Vox Lux isn’t interested in the WHATs, it’s more about the HOWs and the WHYs.
Even in just its visual style, the world feels towering. Buildings and cities are framed as casting immeasurable shadows on our characters. The world feels like it’s going to swallow them eventually, like it’s preying on them. And through this, the movie’s content and messaging is effectively paralleled.
Corbet posits with the movie one real overarching theme that is explored very thoroughly. The link between tragedy and fame. And we don’t mean tragedy in the sense of burning out and coming to an emotional low a la A Star is Born, we mean actual, catastrophic tragedies likes shootings, bombs, terrorism and the like. It’s an idea that sounds absolutely outlandish on paper, but what amazed me is how far the film DIDNT have to go to make its points. It was all sort of there the whole time and it was something I never thought about. There’s sort of a sense that tragedy and fame are like a nexus, feeding one another until the art created from a tragedy fuels the source of the next one, and that gives way to more art, etc. A constant cycle of expression, internalization, and then expression via violence. It’s not about whether or not art or fame creates or invites violence, it’s saying that we’ve constructed a culture around this idea, inside a monster of our own making. It really does hit home when you think about things like the Manchester bombing at the Ariana Grande concert just over a year ago. The tragedy of the event and turmoil lead a pop star to create one of the most personal and revealing part of her body of work, and that music will be used by people who can identify with this sense of tragedy, and thus may play a role in whatever happens next. It’s tenuous, but when you think about it in the context of art being a way for an artist to express and share the results of their pain, be it a response to counter this pain through happiness or embrace the pain via introspection, it makes a whole lot of sense. Tragedy on any scale is what drives artists to create, and from that creation is a complicated web of consumption, relatability, and incentive.
Celeste is a fascinating character. From the moment she appears onscreen, she’s doomed. Doomed to experience horror and feed the nexus just as many have before her. Her life becomes a cycle, a call and response of creation and destruction, and at the center of it all is just a lone, singular, fucked up person. The film doesn’t stop there though, yes, she’s fucked up, but in a HUMAN way. You empathize with her, how COULDNT she be? Portman also channels it perfectly, tacky accent and all, I feel that honestly she might be a shoe in for being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as I recognized her attitude, mannerisms, and even facial ticks that are common even when on medication. She’s unhinged in the best of ways. We also see the whirlwind of fame from the ground up via the music industry, and just like in A Star Is Born, we find it’s a cold machine that responds to the will of the people. If you have a hit, you have a career, if not, tough luck. In a sense of on brand tragic irony- the school shooting was the best thing that happened to Celeste, which is what makes her character feel so vivid. She KNOWS that, and on many levels feels awful about, using her career and persona as a mask for all of that. She only starts compensating as an adult because she was robbed at childhood, being swept up in fame before the realness of her situation could hit her. She was young, and probably made more than a few mistakes. Her transformation from beginning to end May be the true horror of the piece, because like Celeste, you don’t really realize it all until it’s far too late. Once the ending happens, you feel sucker punched. And upon second viewing, this element feels so much stronger, it puts you into the shoes of the protaginist so effectively that you make the mistake that she does. Once the whole picture is made clear, I was gobsmacked by the conclusion the film came to in its final moments, which is quite subjective, as the ending is very much something that’s left the task of evaluation to the viewer, which on this rewatch, made everything feel so much more poignant and purposeful, making me appreciate it even more.
Celeste wasn’t the counterbalance of tragedy at all. Celeste WAS the tragedy. A combined nexus of both.
She is both art, and tragedy, evolved. Reborn. Reincarnated. A symbol of the infinite cycle we’ve made with these concepts, and the price for this evolution, was her soul.