"Unfulfilling Tale of Tragedy and Fame Leads to New Age Christophobia"
What You Need To Know:
VOX LUX brings up some important issues in a sometimes interesting way, but the way it ultimately handles them doesn’t satisfy. The movie perhaps works best as a metaphor. Celeste tries to turn tragedy into spectacle, but she replaces her Christian faith with a New Age, humanist attitude. This may be an accurate though devastating depiction of some Americans during a violent decade, but the movie seems to advocate this godless attitude. VOX LUX also contains strong foul language, drug abuse, and sexual behavior sometimes involving minors.
Split into three acts, VOX LUX follows the story of Celeste from her teenage years to adulthood, as she struggles with tragedy and fame. A haunting opening scene follows Celeste as she confronts a school shooter and gets brutally shot in the process. Miraculously surviving, she and her sister write a song in memory of those who weren’t so lucky or blessed. They perform their ballad at their local church, and it ultimately sweeps the nation as the anthem of the tragedy.
As a teenager, Celeste deals with emotional, spiritual and physical conflict. She’s thrust into the spotlight at a very young age, forced to be a voice for violence and tragedy, and tries to maintain her innocence and faith among the party scene of fame, not to mention dealing with her life-long spinal injury.
The movie’s second half picks up with Natalie Portman as 31-year-old Celeste, who lives in the wake of her life as a pop star. She still has the spotlight and loves being famous, in spite of a life filled with addiction, lost innocence and rejected faith. When another horrific shooting brings Celeste into the spotlight, she’s forced to return to her own tragic past and be a voice for violence and victims, even though she may no longer be the best spokeswoman for the job.
VOX LUX is much more than a rising to stardom story of a pop star. Beginning with a school shooting reminiscent of Columbine, referencing 9/11 and continuing the theme of violent tragedy throughout, the movie provides an interesting correlation between fame, tragedy, exploitation, and responsibility. The movie works best as a metaphor, as Celeste personifies the idea of turning tragedy into a spectacle. She becomes famous for a song she wrote about a shooting. Consequently, at various times in her life, she’s asked to speak out about the violence, even though she personally might not be the best one to do so. It actually becomes clear later in the movie that she has no interest in speaking out on violence but rather just wants to make music that makes people feel good. By the time her sixth album is about to drop, her own personal life is such a mess of drugs, alcoholism and failed relationships, it seems the real tragedy in Celeste’s life is what fame has done to her. Or, perhaps it’s the choices she made along the way. Or, perhaps her troubled life goes back to the violent tragedies she experienced growing up as an American in the early 2000s.
No one watching the movie would question the importance of the issues it brings up, just the way it handles them. Sadly, the movie asks more questions than it answers, leaving a contemplative yet unsatisfactory jumble of events that never quite bring its point home. This may be a good thing, though, considering the movie’s bleak outlook. Also, Celeste eventually makes it clear she’s dropped her Christian faith and has turned herself into her own god. As an adult, she speaks out against the shooters by saying, “I used to believe in God, too. And, if they ever come to their senses like I did and want to believe in something else, they can believe in me. I am the New Testament.” Even the other characters in the movie think these comments are borderline inappropriate and offensive, but they are exceptionally offensive to media-wise people of faith.
It’s also very sad to see the deterioration of a life so focused around the tragedy that abandons faith instead of pressing into God to find meaning in it all. A girl who starts out by standing up to a shooter by saying, “You don’t have to do this, let’s pray together” becomes a swearing addict who puts faith only in herself, and she’s suffering from it. There’s even a reference to Celeste having only survived because she made a deal with the Devil, and he’s the one who has given her so much fame.
The movie ends on a high note of a performance by Natalie Portman’s Celeste character, presumably saying Celeste managed to rise above it all, but its denouement is exceptionally empty. If anything, the movie works too well as a metaphor for the nation’s loss of faith and shifts to a post-Christian culture in the years following such tragedies, although the filmmakers may or may not directly say the loss of faith in America is particularly a bad thing.
Finally, VOX LUX jumps all over the place, hopping from issue to issue and theme to theme without a strong through line or any final redemptive qualities. It seems to be trying to say so much that it ultimately doesn’t say anything beyond some interesting notions of fame and tragedy. In addition, explicit content such as foul language, drug use, sexual content sometimes involving minors, and, of course, the heretical references against Christian faith turn VOX LUX into a movie that media-wise viewers and other moviegoers will reject.