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Around the time Natalie Portman filmed Vox Lux, reports surfaced of an active shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Days before the film’s screening at the American Film Institute Festival, 13 people died in a similar massacre at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California. Director Brady Corbet’s music drama centers on an American pop star who survives a school shooting as a young girl.
“Unfortunately, it’s every week, now in America, so it’s not hard to predict — it was topical while we were shooting,” Portman told The Hollywood Reporter on the AFI Festival carpet Friday. “Parkland happened while we were shooting, or right before, and so it felt topical when we were shooting, and it feels topical now, and I appreciated that Brady didn’t try and exploit any real-life situation. It’s really just referencing the all-too-frequent occurrence of these kinds of shootings.”
Many advised Corbet not to portray gun violence in Vox Lux on the assumption that no one would want to release it because of the risk of a real event that would drive people away from the cinema. But for Corbet, the recent uptick in deadly events justified the film’s onscreen exploration of tragedy and trauma.
“We’ve had almost as many mass shootings this year as there have been days in the year,” Corbet told THR. “I think people are ready to think about this and talk about this more than ever — especially this year. It’s something that we should be dealing with head-on.”
He added: “We shouldn’t be evasive about it. I tried to make the sequence in the film very economical. The violence in the film — there’s very little onscreen violence, but it is disturbing, because the only way you can effectively portray that and to do it some justice is to make it quite brutal.”
Like some postulated, a related tragedy did occur at the Borderline Bar and Grill in the days leading up to the festival. And the California valley community was on everyone’s minds at the screening.
“I spent a lot of time in Thousand Oaks growing up,” Corbet said. “This hits close to home, and I’m devastated for — as a father — the parents that are waking up to a nightmare this morning, and tomorrow, and for the rest of their lives. It’s so unnecessary.”
Inside Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater, Corbet and Portman offered their support to survivors of both the Borderline shooting and the recent wildfires in Ventura County. Corbet even granted audience members permission to leave before the screening began.
“Our thoughts are with everyone in Thousand Oaks,” he said. “That community has been through a lot in the last 48 hours. If you’re feeling vulnerable and you want to come and see this movie another time, don’t worry about it.”
Portman followed suit and expressed her gratitude for the full house during a dark period for California. “It’s been a rough few days for everyone in the community, so thank you for being here, and I hope this evening provides some magic,” she said.
During a panel discussion after the screening, the two continued to discuss the film’s salient theme of violence and its role in the movie musical’s pop landscape.
“The idea wasn’t so much about the link between mass shootings and pop music, because there is no link, but just the desire to be iconic,” Corbet said. “The 20th century and its relationship to violence was about [the] banality of evil, and in the 21st century it’s about the pageantry of evil and about the spectacle of evil. So I was thinking about the nature of spectacle in both positive and very negative ways.”
Vox Lux, starring Portman, Jude Law, and Raffey Cassidy, hits theaters Dec. 7.
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