Sunday, December 05, 2004

Defending Leon (and Natalie Portman)

I spent the entire weekend with my wonderful boyfriend, but now that he's on his way back to Yalie-ville I can weigh in on the Natalie Portman: threat or menace? debate (see here, here, and here).

Jonathan Last's article seems to think that Natalie Portman's role in the gripping film Leon was the impetus for some current pedophilic trend in our culture. A few nitpicks:

-Last takes issue with Portman's wardrobe in Leon: leggings and black velvet chokers are apparently the realm of hookers. I am only one year older than Portman, and in 1993-1994 I was wearing leggings and chokers, too. That was the fashion, in the same way that low rise pants and off the shoulder tops have recently been in style. Portman was dressed in a manner that reflected clothing trends of the time.

-Leon and Matilda do not, in my recollection, have sex. Surely that counts for something. Leon is simultaneously aroused and made uncomfortable by Matilda's sexual advances, but he is, as Matthew Yglesias points out, no moral exemplar, and Leon is depicted as relatively poorly socialized generally.

-Apparently the degree to which the film sexualized Portman was unexpected; her family was shocked by audience reactions to the role and she turned down the role of Lolita in Adrian Lyne's remake as a consequence.

-Is the blurring of the line between desire for pre-pubescent children and teens really something we want to perpetuate? For better or worse, the modern ideal of female beauty closely resembles the physique of a teen girl. Natalie Portman has not undergone a huge transformation in the last ten years. She is still thin and small breasted. How does this affect our analysis of the sexualization of teens? Is Ms. Portman to be guilty of contributing to this social evil until she develops crow's feet and and a giant matronly bottom?

-Closer is not Portman's first adult role. She plays an adult woman in Garden State. Perhaps Last meant "adult" in the same sense as do proprietors of adult videos - her character in Closer is a stripper. But somehow I think it's more accurate to attribute his choice of words to cherry-picking her past roles to shore up his own shaky argument.

Now I must review some journal proofs and read trademark law. In the course of my weekend wanderings, I picked up a copy of Celestial Harmonies at a used book store, but am not sure when I will have enough time to read it. Third year paper, I hate your looming presence.
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