This week’s first look at Lucy in the Sky, the feature directorial debut of Legion creator Noah Hawley, offers fans of cerebral sci-fi a whole lot to be excited about. The film follows the titular Lucy (Natalie Portman), who must contend with an overwhelming transition back to earthbound life after her emotionally affecting time in space. She enters an affair with a fellow astronaut (Jon Hamm) and becomes isolated from her family, thrusting Lucy into a downward spiral that causes her to lose her grip on reality. Watch the trailer below.
While Lucy in the Sky appears to be grounded in a more familiar, real-world setting, the film certainly shares some beats with Portman’s last sci-fi outing, the challenging and captivating Annihilation. Both movies show how a journey into an eerie and mysterious realm, whether something set on Earth like The Shimmer or as far-reaching as the cosmos, bears debilitating repercussions upon a scientist’s mental state.
Lucy in the Sky is based on the true story of former astronaut Lisa Nowak, who suffered from a psychological decline after her own return to Earth. Her case culminated in an infamous cross-country road trip motivated by violence, as she attempted to kidnap her ex-boyfriend’s new lover.
To what extent the film will include the particulars of the Nowak case remains uncertain, as the trailer puts its protagonist’s declining mental health at the center of its conflict rather than focus on the love triangle of her real-life counterpart. This prioritization becomes especially apparent with the trailer’s chilling ending: Lucy, snapping out of a reverie, assuring an unseen someone that she’s “fine.” This subject matter overall establishes another link to Annihilation, with Lena’s experiences in The Shimmer having been widely discussed as allegorical of struggles with mental illness and self-destruction.
Portman has a history of playing women who unravel, from Black Swan to Jackie to last year’s Vox Lux. With Lucy in the Sky, it’s exciting to see her take on another dark and complicated character study, especially one within the sci-fi genre. While Portman has given a number of riveting performances throughout her career, the past few years have seen her choosing to take on quite a few genre-specific roles, which have yielded riveting, moving results. If her performances in Annihilation and in this trailer are any indication, Lucy in the Sky positions itself to be another worthy installment in this renaissance moment for the actress.
The Lucy in the Sky trailer also features some intriguing visual moments, from a close-up of Portman’s eyes glazing over behind her helmet to Space literally inserting itself in her character’s reality, slicing through the bed of a truck. The fact that the film is helmed by Hawley yields a great deal of promise, as Legion’s sleek and stylized visuals are a hallmark of its success. This emphasis on stunning visuals, in turn, brings Annihilation to mind once again, as the film includes its own noteworthy set of trippy images and twists: a garden of humanoid flowers and vines, a skull and rib cage blossoming out of a wall of colorful decay, the swirling blue-purple oil spill of The Shimmer itself.
And yet, despite all of these ready comparisons, there’s another major difference between Annihilation and Lucy in the Sky: while the former focuses on a journey through a new world, the latter focuses on what comes after that journey.
By the end of Annihilation, we are left to wonder what life is like for Lena after The Shimmer, or even whether it was Lena who made it out of The Shimmer at all. This ending leaves a lot of people guessing and adds to the film’s allure as a strong, heady piece of science fiction. But as our own Liz Baessler pointed out, having an open-ended film doesn’t always necessitate a sequel; in fact, creating a sequel to Annihilation would cause the film to lose much of what makes it so compelling, its ambiguity.
In contrast, Lucy in the Sky seems more focused on its protagonist’s return, with the trailer emphasizing the aftermath of Lucy’s encounter with the cold vastness of space rather than the encounter itself. This followthrough with the character’s experiences after her otherworldly adventure may provide its own sense of satisfaction, one that might be able to offer fans of Annihilation some closure while not endangering the film’s standalone status.
Overall, Lucy in the Sky’s myriad connections to one of last year’s best sci-fi films makes it something to get excited about. Even though it remains its own distinct production, there could prove to be some merit to reading it as a spiritual sequel to Portman’s last foray into the genre.