Published:  09:35 PM, 13 September 2019

Natalie Portman joins Hollywood space race with ‘Lucy in the Sky’

Natalie Portman joins Hollywood space race with ‘Lucy in the Sky’
NASA may have grounded its space
shuttles, but more Hollywood A-listers than ever are exploring the final
frontier, with Natalie Portman launching one of two astronaut movie premieres
at Toronto’s film festival.

“Lucy in the Sky” opens with Portman drifting through space in her
astronaut suit, begging her bosses for a few more moments to gaze at the
cosmos before returning to the humdrum reality of life on Earth.

Eva Green’s character in French movie “Proxima” also portrays the immense
challenge of life as an astronaut — an elite club, still more so for women –
– but focuses on the grueling build-up to lift-off.

The actresses follow a string of marquee stars donning spacesuits in recent
years including George Clooney and Sandra Bullock (“Gravity”), Matt Damon
(“The Martian”), Matthew McConaughey (“Interstellar”), Ryan Gosling (“First
Man”) and Brad Pitt in the upcoming “Ad Astra.”

So why does the astronaut continue to exert such a grip on our
imaginations, half a century after the first Moon landings?

“It’s such a childhood dream of course,” Portman told AFP. “There’s only
like 80 people around right now who have been to space — it’s such a rare
opportunity and rare personality and talent that achieves that.”

Portman said going to space was “absolutely” a dream of hers growing up.

“It still is but I think I’m kind of past the point…” joked the 38-year-
old. “I don’t know — maybe not. They say that space travel is going to be
all privatized soon — maybe we’ll all get the chance!”

If she does, she will surely hope to fare better on return than her
character in “Lucy in the Sky.”

The Fox Searchlight film is loosely based on the real-life Lisa Nowak, who
became a tabloid punchline following her arrest for attacking a love rival
over a tawdry affair with a fellow astronaut soon after returning to Earth.

Headlines in 2007 focused on a bizarre — and possibly unfounded — report
Nowak had worn adult diapers in her haste to drive from Texas to Florida to
confront the other woman. Portman chose to focus on more philosophical

“It’s so rare to see a woman have an existential crisis on screen,” she
told AFP. “Having coming back from space and having seen the Earth as this
inconsequential thing — what does life on Earth mean after you’ve seen the
whole galaxy?”

– ‘Freeze… or boil to death’ –

“Lucy in the Sky” received lukewarm reviews, although its creative use of
shrinking aspect ratios as Lucy returns to a claustrophobic life on Earth —
from expansive widescreen in space to restrictive 4:3 ratio in suburban Texas
— was praised by some critics.

“What it’s meant to do, without you noticing, is to pull you deeper into
her state of mind,” director Noah Hawley told AFP.

“If I can do that, then when she makes those choices that you don’t agree
with, you’re not going to judge her for it — you’re going to empathize with

More positive was the critics’ response to “Proxima,” shot on location
including at the European Space Agency training facility in Germany.

Green plays a mother suffering conflicted feelings as she prepares for a
space mission that will mean prolonged separation from her young daughter.

Again the fragility of the real-life people who go to space is
foregrounded, with director Alice Winocour telling journalists she wanted to
explore beyond the typical image of astronauts as “super-human.”

Both Portman’s and Green’s characters are high-performing, perfectionist
types who nonetheless struggle to deal with an experience so stressful it is
impossible for most people to comprehend.

While the more routine launches of the past few decades have drawn a
fraction of the interest of the Moon landings’ heyday, romanticism and
bravery remain tied to the concept of astronauts.

“There’s no more dangerous pursuit than to literally get on a giant bomb, a
rocket, and go to someplace with no air or water where you’ll either freeze
to death or boil to death in your suit if things go wrong,” said Hawley.

In today’s troubled times of divisive politics and the menace of terrorism,
he said, space exploration retains its escapist lure on the big screen, if
not in real life.

“The more of a mess that we make down here, the more we’re going to
romanticize and yearn for that ability to explore.”

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