“Why would God create something that has to destroy itself to fly?” says Lucy (Natalie Portman) to her kindly yet bewildered husband. It’s a infuriatingly beautiful question and one that is both the crux of Lucy in the Sky, and at the heart of every person who looked up and asked themselves who they were within the vastness of the universe. I have a soft spot for films that go out of their way to convey the feminine emotional experience. When Director Noah Hawley introduced this film at TIFF 2019 and he said that he hoped that his film would enable us to go with Lucy. He hoped he was successful in conveying her emotional journey, and that we would understand her decisions even if we didn’t agree.
Lucy Cola is an astronaut fresh from ten days spent aboard the international space station. When first we see her she is on a spacewalk watching the sunrise over Earth. The look in her eyes is one of awe and wonder. When mission control tells her it’s time to come back she says “just a few more minutes… just a few more minutes” like a child breathless from play. She is seeing everything as if for the first time. That moment comes to haunt Lucy. She can’t integrate it into her psyche. She returns to her husband Drew (Dan Stevens) and her niece Iris (Pearl Amanda Dickson), and her humdrum suburban house. She looks around and sees everything writ small. She questions her life, and her choices. These people that are supposed to be her family seem far away. Only Lucy’s foul-mouthed Nana (Ellen Burstyn) ever seems to ring her bells. She seeks comfort in a fellow astronaut called Mark (Jon Hamm typecast as a hard-drinking cad. Who knew?) Who makes love to her and tells her difficult truths while being duplicitous and aloof. As the film unfurls Lucy detaches. And so the wonder she beheld becomes her sorrow.
Hawley and Co. does a very interesting thing with the cinematography. The screen seems to breath as the aspect ratio moves inward, and outward. Each movement is timed to an emotional high, or a mundane resignation. Neighborhoods and driveways and family dinners are oft-framed dead centre from above in the moments Lucy disassociates from her world. Lucy is not (as some vapid early reviewer said) “addicted to space”. Being in space was just the catalyst for her emotional breakdown. She comes to realize that she’s been coasting through her whole life; hell bent on being the best, the strongest, and never even realizing that she’s not connected to anyone. She can’t even connect to the people who had the same experience as her. How could she when her own husband seems a colourless drip, and her niece is basically an apparition? In the moments when she really needs someone she falls short every time.
Some people may find this film difficult or not entertaining or what have you. It’s a serious work to be sure; obsessed with its craft, its wheeling and whirling aspect ratios begging the viewer for understanding. But.. Isn’t that what Lucy is asking for?
And finally – yes they use the song. It’s a cover. They don’t play the whole thing.