I sat down to write about how much I dislike this cover — how remote, and chilly, and opaque it makes its subject — and I started to get a sense of déjà vu. Sure enough, I had the same gripes about her September 2017 Elle cover. So maybe Alicia Vikander, as a photographic subject, is just remote and chilly and opaque, and presents an advanced-level challenge to the camera lens. In the Elle one, she at least seemed dimensional, flesh-and-blood, if also totally dazed and drained. Here, she’s equally lifeless, but in a stern, strict way, as if you just interrupted her fourth meditation of the day and no she does NOT want to help you with your math homework, so please go away and let mummy realign the chakras that you so rudely knocked out of whack. Oh, wow, I just realized it’s as if she’s a young Iris McKay, and I don’t even want to contemplate how many readers here might be too young to understand that reference. (I’ll help, though.)
So, right away, we have a cover subject who appears irked by your very eyeballs — a veritable stiff-arm to the throat. The story inside purports to talk about what a rule breaker she is per the cover line, but in actuality paints her as a perfectly nice person who much prefers to keep a lid on everything. She and her friends both talk about how she’s adept at putting on a show of calmness, and the story tries to weave between that and cultivating this idea that she’s a wild free spirit, chiefly via the fact that they’re on a short ATV ride (Vikander’s idea, and one that seems intended to push the story in a direction that isn’t actually where it went, nor necessarily that accurate). There are a couple anecdotes about her focus, and some vague non-comments about Michael Fassbender that don’t do a lot to make me think they spend that much time together. Which is fine; she’s private. The cover does at least seem to tell that story. But this must have been a white-knuckler of an issue to put together, because you have a profile that isn’t all that interesting but is at least more relaxed than the cover, and you have a cover that wants you to shove off and leave it alone. Tough sell.
And then. AND THEN. The interior photos. Please look at them, and jump quickly from slide 5 to slide 6. I’ll wait. … Okay, you’re back. It’s CREEPY. RIGHT?!? The blurb before the slideshow begins is basically just, “Here she is in some modern and retro looks.” I would have described this as, “Rich, terminally bored socialite becomes the subject of her own hallucinatory horror film.” Except that sounds more interesting than these are. Vikander looks blank, or peeved, or lightly vexed, in all of them, and they’re so heavily stylized and edited that they look like they’re half-painted. It’s just so inaccessible, and for a shoot where SO MUCH is happening — at one point there are three of her? — it’s also bland.
As for the rest: The cover line about Lena Dunham describes her situation a bit lazily, perhaps to the point of underselling, as if word economy was Priority No. 1. Plenty of women struggle with infertility at 31 — I was one of them — so there isn’t anything inherently newsworthy there; the decision Lena actually made, namely to get a hysterectomy at that young age, goes rather beyond that, and is a more complex discussion. Her essay about it is online. Honestly, in terms of the medical issue she’s discussing and how much women’s health has been in the news in general, Lena might have made for a more interesting cover, and one worth the scramble to make it work (the timing would have been sticky, given that the necessary lead time means that Lena was probably in the hospital or recovering when they’d have wanted to shoot). Maybe it would’ve been too slapdash, or felt exploitative? But however you feel about Lena, or the decisions she makes or has made, that’s a more topical and timely and personal story that might’ve made Vogue seem — for one split-second — like it had its finger on ANY kind of pulse. An illusion, to be sure, but one it hasn’t been able to cast in quite some time.