Natalie Portman: A role model for 'overdriven dilettantes'

The "Black Swan" star isn't just an accomplished actress — her confused ambitions also make her a poster child for a generation of aimless overachievers, says Nathan Heller at Slate

The Oscar-nominated Natalie Portman "cuts a strange path through the field of Hollywood celebrity," says Nathan Heller at Slate.
(Image credit: Corbis)

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.

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