The Childhood of a Leader, a film showed us how fascist regimes have spread so rampantly they’ve lost all control and sense of reality, was a solid beginning for the type of filmmaking director Brady Corbet seems to want to explore.
The last moments of Childhood of a Leader are insanely intense, featuring a swirling camera and an overbearing but addictive score and I craved for the rest of the film to be like that, and I sensed Corbet did also.
Enter Corbet’s sophomore film, Vox Lux, which is those last few moments of The Childhood of a Leader but for the majority of the runtime.
Vox Lux is a film on the current state of American media and public opinion. We get a film about a deranged pop star that has become what her spaces have molded her into. The film is split into three acts, we start with an Elephant-esque opening where the main character, Celeste, is injured during a school shooting. The shooter dressed as a glam pop star, similar to the style Celeste will attribute in her artistic persona.
Once she completes her treatment she and her sister, Eleanor, perform a song for the victims of the shooting. Almost immediately Corbet gets to the point of his film, the self cannibalization of tragedy. In the narration by Willem Dafoe, we’re told how America wants to capitalize on tragedy, “It’s not her trauma anymore, it’s now everyone’s.” There is no individualism in Celeste anymore, she is now a martyr, an idol for people to view the world through.
When we get to the second half, Celeste is completely different than what she used to be. Gone is the innocent, childlike nature she once inhabited, the Celeste that was so close to her sister and prayed to God every night with, now we have a Celeste that has embraced the debauched lifestyle that has become a self satirization to the public of the off the rails popstar. Celeste has lost her faith in humanity, “I am sick of people treating me like I’m not a person!”, she shouts in her green room before a performance, demanding to be herself in a world that wants her to solve all their problems. This reminded me a lot of Robert Bresson’s The Devil, Probably, a film about a young man that is tired of the world and wants someone to kill him.
In both these films, we have people who have lost faith in the world and don’t know what to do with themselves. In Bresson’s film, the main character meets a fatal end. “Vox Lux” shows us someone who almost came to a fatal end but due to surviving doesn’t know what to do with herself. Since she can’t beat them, she joins them.
This is where Corbet gets into the meat of his perspective on the current media landscape. In the beginning of Act II, a terrorist attack is committed on the beaches of Croatia. They happen to wear the same masks Celeste wears in one of her early music videos.
Because of this, the media decides to ask her everything on the terrorist attack, showing the dissociation the media has on tragedy. They don’t care a terrorist attack happened, they only care what Celeste has to say about it, a symptom of celebrity worship that has infected our media with the rise of Donald Trump. We only respect people if they’re famous, because they’re everywhere so we got to listen to them…right?
The film ends just as ambiguous as the future is for us.
What will happen to the world now? Corbet hints at a world where we loses all sense of control and meaning, precious moments are fast forwarded for cheap fauxness.
There are two sequences where Corbet fast forwards in a Clockwork Orange type style. First it’s with VHS footage of Celeste and Eleanor in Stockholm, what should be beautiful moments of innocence flash before us in an almost unintelligible way.
The next time this fast forward montage style is utilized is when Celeste and her manager get high on drugs and sex. Eventually cheap pleasures will pass by us, leaving nothing for us to truly absorb. Exactly like what Corbet says in the subtitle of this film, this is truly a 21st Century Portrait.