Vox Lux makes for polarizing viewing. The film — which stars Natalie Portman as an empty, narcissistic pop star — is visual candy peppered with uncomfortable extended sequences of visceral violence that fails to capture the wicked majesty of pop and its stars in the way it thinks it does. Yet, for a savory couple of minutes towards the film’s end — when Portman as the adult version of protagonist singer Celeste takes the stage in her hometown Staten Island to perform her nearly two decade-old breakout hit “Wrapped Up” — it almost feels like Vox Lux finds its way.
Two different versions of “Wrapped Up” are heard in Vox Lux. The first is sung by the younger Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) as both her family and town recover from a gruesome tragedy. The perfect pairing of an ingenue’s just-uncovered natural talent and an empowering ballad about hope and recovery make her a star. The first version is simple; Celeste’s sister plays on a broken keyboard as the sole accompaniment to the song.
Portman appears in the second half of the film. Celeste has been through the industry’s ringer and is now the mother to a daughter who is the same age she was when she was thrust into the spotlight as the symbol for a nation’s hope after mourning. Celeste in the film is wrapped up in all the accoutrements of pop excess we hope for: elaborate paint on her face and hair as well as a bedazzled costumed make her as otherworldly and plastic as we strive for when seeing a pop show.
Here, “Wrapped Up” is bigger and bawdier. Drowning in synths above the broken keys of the original piano arrangement. A chorus of Celeste’s own voice turns the pleading nature of the Sia-penned chorus into a choir of desperation. It’s church-like: the angelic harmonies hit like a gut-punch before Portman’s lone soprano tenderly reveals “And I’m so lucky to be with you/Keeping me from my shadow/I know I would have been torn to shreds/By all the people in my head” during the post-chorus. It’s almost too-good at being a pop song, but that is Sia’s specialty.