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A 21st century portrait

by Dr Christopher Chapman, 4 March 2019

Director Brady Corbet’s new movie Vox Lux is a filmic portrait of Celeste, a teenage high-school-shooting survivor turned Lady Gaga-style super-pop-star (with songs for the film co-written by Australia’s Sia Furler). Corbet’s creative style is driven by his own foundational indie ambience: he has acted in films by Gregg Araki, Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier. In Vox Lux, Natalie Portman inhabits adult Celeste with the singularity of character she brought to her portrayal of Jackie Kennedy in Pablo Larraín’s biographical portrait; and New York City ballet hopeful Nina in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.

Natalie Portman in Vox Lux

Corbet calls Vox Lux a 21st century portrait, as did artists Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno in their portrayal of star French footballer Zinédine Zidane. Their immersive film used seventeen cameras to record Zidane’s undulating psychological state across the course of the Real Madrid versus Villarreal match of 23 April 2005. Zidane emerges as driven by fluid instinct, a feeling underscored by Scottish band Mogwai’s sliding-vibrating soundtrack. This portrait is allusive, impressionistic; it is self-contained with only glimpses into the outside world.

Zidane, a 21st century portrait, 2006 (still) by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno

Corbet’s characterisation of Celeste fashions her as the product of an irrational world. His film is a philosophical essay on the leaking of meaning from modern life. Triangulated by authorial vision, an interpretation of an actual life and the creation of a symbolic persona, these two ‘21st century portraits’ are equally elusive. They reflect the ever-intangible nature of inner life.