Sam Noland’s review published on Letterboxd:
I saw Vox Lux in a COMPLETELY empty theater, and it made for a really odd, kind of awesome experience. It’s a mysterious movie, and knowing that I was the only one there to absorb it made it all the more mysterious, as if I stumbled into some bizarre, hidden viewing room.
I say it’s a mysterious movie because, although it’s something of a character study, it’s an objective one. It never goes into the mind of the protagonist Celeste, but rather presents how significant events in her life have made her who she is. Although this example is a much better film, it kept reminding me of Citizen Kane, in its structure at least.
Without giving anything away (because it took me by surprise), the movie opens with an event from Celeste’s childhood that severely and immediately influences everything that takes place after it. Like Kane’s sudden abduction from his mother at a young age, this event is presented as a way to unlock not just Celeste, but an entire subcategory of people at a certain age, and how the ubiquity of real-life horror and violence has shaped them.
A lot of movies have focused on children who are forced to somehow jettison their youth and, essentially, ‘grow up too fast,’ and this is one of the first ones I’ve seen to go beyond that and explore the ramifications that this has on adulthood, and the relationships that come with it. What’s more, it somehow communicates all of this through only a limited series of interactions; it also reminded me of Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs in it’s sectioned-out narrative. It all culminates in a sequence that is wonderful, powerful, impressive, and enlightening all at once. It simultaneously gives you everything you need and nothing at all, and I realize now that I was actually kind of transfixed by it.
I’ve always felt somewhat alienated by movies like this that are somewhat terse or unknowable, and while I still feel that at times, this one only makes me want to explore further. It’s a story that asks a lot of the audience, but for once it has something to give in return.
I hadn’t settled on a rating when I started writing this; I’ve spent over half a day wavering from 3/5 all the way to 4/5, and after talking it out I realize how much I kind of loved it. Maybe it was the unique theater experience, but I truly think this is one of the most fascinating and well-told stories of the year. Maybe I’ll change my mind upon a second viewing, but I hope I don’t, because this is something special.
Natalie Portman is 2 for 2 when it comes to crazy, weird movies this year, and this here is some of her best, most subtle work.
Also, let Willem Dafoe narrate EVERYTHING.