Some movies just leave you wondering: “Why?” That is all I remember thinking as I exited the theater following the film Vox Lux. Never has anything, not even my final exams, left me with such a general air of confusion. And most bewildering of all, it might have been intentional!
Vox Lux stars Natalie Portman as Celeste, an aging pop star. But even that might have been a sort of false advertising. For the film begins when Celeste is still a teenager, portrayed by Raffey Cassidy. Her career begins then, under the shadow of an enormous tragedy, a school shooting. Perhaps, it was the depiction of that tragedy that decisively turned me against the film. It was senseless and horrifying. Worst, it felt as if the movie was exploiting the chilling nature of the event to send a message. Whatever that message, I was certainly not ready to hear it, much less understand it.
This certainly obscured one of the best parts of the film, which was Cassidy’s performance as young Celeste. I was always left wondering what she was thinking. Alternatively, she acted her age and then well beyond her years. Contributing to this, was her odd demeanor, calm when she should be tense, prepared when she should be caught off guard. Celeste was a constant enigma that never ceased to intrigue me, at least when Cassidy was playing her.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment, then, was Natalie Portman’s performance. Whatever subtlety was created in the first few acts of the movie was completely lost by these last few parts. In fact, there seemed to be little connection between the two, which contributed to the overall lack of cohesiveness in the film. This adult Celeste has been jaded by years of public performance and has, at least outwardly, left the past behind. She is always looking to cover up her messes and make everyone as forgetful as she is. This is the philosophy that the film espouses best. The film, itself, wants to move as quickly as possible. It blurs everything together into a hyperactive montage of images. When there is so much information, none of it will matter.
It is a cynical stance that this film takes. But it is a cynicism about the 21st century that means nothing because we are no longer invested in any of the characters nor the world they inhabit. We don’t know what they want because they strive for nothing. We don’t care. Celeste doesn’t care. There is simply no weight in the film at all. Vox Lux is frenetic mess that sprints through scenes but ends up nowhere at all. Maybe that is exactly where it wanted to be?