• U.S.

From Teen To Teen: Thoughts From A Young Actor

3 minute read
Natalie Portman

“‘Deep down, the young are lonelier than the old.’

“I read this in a book somewhere, and it’s stuck in my mind. As far as I can tell, it’s true.” (Saturday, July 15, 1944)

Statements like these betray conventional perceptions of Anne Frank. The popular image that she was an optimistic light in a time of darkness is overturned and made more complex by the fact that she often wavered between moods. Upon every reading, something different, and even contradictory to previous reactions, stands out. I remember when I first read the book at age 12, what seemed most important to me was the relationship that Anne shared with her father. At 15, it was her friendship with Peter and her burgeoning sexuality. At 16, when I portrayed Anne on Broadway, it was her flaws–vanity, overexcitability and quickness to fight–that interested me the most. And now, upon my most recent perusal just weeks before my 18th birthday, I am struck most strongly by her introspection, solitude, perfect self-awareness and sense of purpose. Monitoring my reactions to the diary has shown me how I was growing up.

Anne’s objectivity when describing her own emotions, thoughts and actions allows the reader to become her and to observe her at the same time. Her direct style and self-comprehension enabled her to put emotions into words that most adolescents have a hard time putting into thoughts. Believing that she doesn’t love her mother, having aspirations of fame and recalling touching a friend’s breasts are told of delicately and unabashedly. Anne did not excise these anecdotes even in extensive editing for potential publication.

Anne’s literal entrapment and terror figuratively describe the claustrophobia and fears of teenage experience. Personally, she let me know that I was not weird when I was not getting along with adults, or was infatuated with a boy I knew I didn’t really like. Fears of not accomplishing anything as an adult, dying without leaving a mark and never finding love or happiness became more normal, but also more trivial for me, because I had the privilege of life. The passion Anne had in her life and her art injected my life with these same elements as well. Sensuality, love, anger, sadness and joy became more alive to me in my own development and self-assessment.

But I am one person. The entire world has been touched by this young girl. As war and violence persist in our world, and in new, often terrifying forms among young people, we continue to look to Anne to remember what we lose by hatred and brutality, and to learn to preserve our integrity and soul in a world seemingly devoid of those elements. The beauty and truth of her words have transcended the limits placed upon her life by the darkness of human nature.

Natalie Portman portrayed Anne Frank in the 1997-98 production of the Broadway play. She currently appears in The Phantom Menace

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com