Socialist Worker

Vox Lux is a bold vision, but loses its politics along way

by Sam Lorde
Issue No. 2652

Natalie Portman as Celeste in Vox Lux

Natalie Portman as Celeste in Vox Lux


A brutal school shooting in Statten Island, New York, is the start of a glittering pop career in Vox Lux.

Celeste is 13 when one of her classmates comes in and shoots her teacher in front of her. The student goes on to gun down her class, and shoot Celeste through the neck in the process.

She survives and, at a memorial service performs a song she has written—becoming an overnight sensation. Record deals, label wrangling, sex and drugs follow.

Then comes her comeback tour almost 20 years later.

Always within Celeste’s wild success is the harrowing memory of how she got her big break. Because of this, the audience is encouraged to side with her despite bad behaviour and racist outbursts.

The moving song she performs at the memorial service is replaced with a slew of glittering pop numbers that starkly contrast with the traumatic story behind her rise to fame.

As Celeste says, “I don’t want people to think too hard. I just want them to feel good.” She takes her own advice as well, leading to compounded trauma down the line.

A narrative voiceover by Willem Dafoe adds a fantastical once-upon-a-time quality to the proceedings. It creates another layer of contrast with the messy and often violent events on screen.

Shooting

The significant moments in the narrative come as terrible things happen. There is the initial school shooting, then later 9/11 marks the conception of Celeste’s child. And a terrorist attack on a beach similar to the 2015 Port el Kantaoui attack in Tunisia is the background to her comeback tour.

This is a visually arresting film.

Director Brady Corbet’s technical skill holds the viewer’s attention throughout the two and a half hours.

Yet the philosophical and political points it tries to make about the state of pop culture are meandering and it lack a sharp focus.

Maybe that’s intentional, but it leaves a sense that something is missing.

Vox Lux, Directed by Brady Corbett. On limited release

Kimsooja—To Breathe

For over 25 years South Korean conceptual artist Kimsooja has used the form and idea of “bottari”—the South Korean word for a bundle wrapped in fabric.

Kimsooja identifies it as “a self-contained world—but one which can contain everything materially and conceptually”.

In addition to the physical act of sewing, Kimsooja considers the concept metaphorically. She sees the body as a needle that weaves together the fabric of lives and cultures.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Until 29 September

Extreme Imagination— Inside the Mind’s Eye

This exhibition displays the work of 22 artists with aphantasia—a medical condition that means you can’t visualise things before seeing them—and its opposite condition hyperphantasia.

Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter. Until 2 June

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.