Film Review: Natalie Portman in ‘Vox Lux’

It’s been nearly two years since Katy Perry — one of several modern musical supernovae reflected in the beautiful, shattered-glass surfaces of “Vox Lux” — launched the campaign for her fifth album by declaring a new era of “purposeful pop.” No longer would her catchy-as-chlamydia radio anthems be mere teenage dreams of kissing California gurls last Friday night, apparently. Perry’s pop would show invigorated social and political resolve, leaving a woker, sparklier world in its wake. “I’ve seen behind the curtain, and I can’t go back,” Perry said, setting herself up for a media drubbing when the album, give or take some standard-issue empowerment mantras, sounded much like all its slickly enamelled predecessors.

For pop has always been purposeful, and its populist purpose tends to drive it away from the self — a quandary that Brady Corbet’s extraordinary second feature picks at with icy fascination. Powered in its second half by a riveting performance of fiercely mannered bravado by Natalie Portman, as a kamikaze electropop diva running her Faustian fame off and under the rails, “Vox Lux” paints a sharp, shellacked portrait of a ghost in the celebrity machine.

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