Natalie Portman looks out of this world in Lucy in the Sky trailer


Since making her debut as a teen assassin, Natalie Portman has refused to play it safe. Based on the trailer, Lucy in the Sky continues that trend.

Is any actor in Hollywood right now better at portraying the complexity of the human mind than Natalie Portman? The former child star won an Oscar for her no-holds-barred turn as a perfectionist ballerina in Darren Aronofsky’s trashy-arty thriller Black Swan. She deserved another for playing a grief-stricken Jackie Kennedy in Pablo Larraín’s surreal biopic Jackie. And in Alex Garland’s Annihilation last year, she unraveled in a subtler yet equally visceral way as a biologist who loses herself in a demented landscape.

Although linked by their lack of vanity, each performance is unique, tailored to fit the particular character and project. So, her role in the upcoming Lucy in the Sky feels less like typecasting than an opportunity for Portman to venture further into the territory she has long since claimed.

Lucy in the Sky features Portman as Lucy Cola, an astronaut who struggles to readjust to life on Earth after a long mission in space. A trailer released by Fox Searchlight this morning (which you can see below) hints at an affair with a fellow astronaut played by Jon Hamm and a police chase. Otherwise, though, the clip is tantalizingly bereft of plot details, focusing instead on breathtaking imagery of the cosmos and suburbia. (For the curious, the bizarre real-life story of Lisa Nowak served as inspiration.)

Besides its ensemble cast, which, in addition to Portman and Hamm, includes Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens, Ellen Burstyn, and Colman Domingo, the film is most noteworthy for being the big-screen directorial debut of Fargo and Legion creator Noah Hawley. Hawley directed episodes of both series, displaying a flair for dynamic, off-kilter visuals.

Elements of Legion, in particular, are evident throughout the Lucy in the Sky trailer. Like the FX superhero show, it centers on an individual who is alienated from society and, arguably, reality, and who engages in an ill-advised romance. It also features multiple shifts in aspect ratio: when we arrive on Earth, the frame constricts to create a smaller rectangle within the screen, reflecting Lucy’s mindset. As Portman says in a Southern-accented voiceover, “You go up there and you see the whole universe. Everything here looks so small.”

A handful of Hawley’s collaborators from Legion are here too, from actors Stevens and Pearl Amanda Dickson to cinematographer Polly Morgan. The score by composer Jeff Russo (who also worked on Fargo) accompanies the trailer, recognizable due to its eerie blend of orchestral and electronic cues, like 2001: A Space Odyssey mixed with Gravity.

When the movie was first announced with the title Pale Blue Dot and Reese Witherspoon in the lead role (she remains on board as a producer), former astronaut Marsha Ivins criticized the notion of mental instability caused by space travel. Certainly, themes of trauma and madness are tricky, requiring empathy and a deft touch – two things that Hollywood has in short supply. But the best space cinema, from 2001 to First Man, resonates not because of its realism but because of its emotion, tapping into the human fear of and fascination with the unknown. Lucy in the Sky looks like another work in that vein.

Regardless, with Natalie Portman involved, you can be sure it won’t be boring.

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Lucy in the Sky is scheduled for release sometime in 2019.