Film Fridays: Jackie

The film Jackie, directed by Pablo Larraín, takes the political spotlight off the president and focuses it instead on the first lady. This time John F. Kennedy is used as a plot device, most shots only showing the back of his head. The film explores what Jackie Kennedy must have felt before and after her husband’s assassination.

Much of the film consists of dialogue and close-up shots of Jackie, played by Natalie Portman, who expresses varying forms of grief after her husband’s death; she pensively stares into space, releases heaving sobs and falls into a brief, intoxicated delirium. In arguably the best scene, a bereaved Jackie blasts the finale song from Camelot on her record player, drinks an impressive amount of Stoli vodka and chain-smokes while playing dress-up with her expensive gowns. The film does plod along and sometimes is boring, however, as the viewer already knows what happens to her husband.

Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

 

There is reprieve from the slow unfurling of history when Jackie speaks with a priest (played by Sir John Hurt, who recently died on January 25) after her husband’s death. They discuss existential questions about life and the priest confides that sometimes when he’s in bed at night and staring into the dark, he’ll think, “Is this all there is?” Yet, he still wakes up in the morning and makes himself coffee, just like Jackie herself did that morning. “There are no answers,” the priest tells Jackie, and says that we all have to accept that truth and keep living.

The film is structured in a series of flashbacks, with its point of return being Jackie’s first media interview after her husband’s death. During the interview, a recently-widowed Jackie looks fragile and smokes constantly. She and the journalist seem to be challenging each other. (The reporter tells Jackie an example of a sentence he’d write about her and mentions her smoking. “But I don’t smoke,” she says between exhales.) Jackie also toys with the reporter, giving him juicy details she thinks he is looking for – such as the sound of the bullet – among many other personal revelations, but immediately denies the writer permission to use these details.

Perhaps for many who wondered what Jackie was thinking and feeling during that time, the interview in the movie fulfills that imagining. It also plays on current wonderings many may have regarding individuals (not yet) in the White House – for instance, Melania Trump. What does she really think and feel about her husband and her new role? We, of course, will likely never know.

Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

 

Lastly, the movie focuses on the aspect of Jackie as an icon. Repeatedly, the movie references the televised home tour of the White House Jackie gave in 1962; she was planning on redecorating and turning the White House into a museum and wanted to collect old furniture from past presidents. At one point in the film, Robert F. Kennedy tells her that the JFK administration hadn’t accomplished anything, and accuses them both of being foolish, insinuating that all her accomplishments were in vain. However, at a different point during the interview, the reporter tells Jackie that she had the ability to bring life to a cold home, referencing the champagne-filled parties she threw at the White House and her initiatives to preserve history.

Jackie’s intention for the home tour was to reveal that real people lived and worked in the White House. She wanted to expand that idea to the American people – to humanize the presidents and people of the past who lived there before her.

Jackie has been nominated for three Academy Awards and one Golden Globe award.

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