It wasn't just talent and a pretty face that made Natalie Portman one of her generation's most compelling actresses, says Nathan Heller at Slate. What sets the Israeli-born, vegan, Harvard graduate apart is "her puzzling ambitions." Hollywood typically thrives by creating strong public images, but Portman's image has gone through countless incarnations. She first appeared as a 12-year-old nymphet in The Professional, then slogged through the rote Star Wars prequels, tried her hand at directing, worked as Alan Dershowitz's research assistant, dabbled in microfinance, and just starred in her first rom com, No Strings Attached. What Portman wants remains a mystery, writes Heller, just like many of her generational peers, "overprogrammed children" who have grown into ambitious 30-something overachievers still seeking direction and purpose. Here, an excerpt:

Confusion about where Portman stands in her ambitions isn't, in fact, just a function of her own path. It's an ambiguity extending through the upper strata of her generation. Portman's peers make up a demographic widely perceived as a legion of overdriven dilettantes, a group of young people alternately pushed to wild multispecialization by some unknown inner fire and stunted by an incapacity to choose among those paths... bleary students working well past midnight at the college newspaper, then rising before dawn for sports; thirtysomething strivers who have changed careers three times trying to find their gold-paved boulevard and forestalled adult life as a result.

[Portman] is a public figure whose attempts to be all things while committing her soul to none — to draw millions at the box office, to be a fearless small-film artist, to turn her education toward social good — echoes the conflict in our own ambitious drives, our need to keep every iron burning hot for fear of losing our glow. She's replaced an older form of movie-star restlessness (the kind that zoomed toward nothing but the spotlight and that made a mess of lives) with a new one.

Read the entire story at Slate.