- Jackie (2017)
When you try to make a film about any character that played a part in the Big History, it’s easy to either create a sugar-coated, badly nauseating movie, or make a silly picture that makes your head upset when you try to be “real” and “controversial”. Pablo Larrain, however, doesn’t hit the profanity and neither does he hide the character of JFK’s wife. Instead, he tells a story of a widowed woman who, put in the spotlight, suffers through a moment noted in history books in the insanity of her own world.
The film moves back and forth over a week from the death of John F. Kennedy. Composed around the interview given by Jackie Kennedy to Life Magazine reporter Theodore H. White, it is structured as a messy selection of memories. “I told everyone that I can’t remember. It’s not true. I can remember everything,” she says, and she explains her perspective to her interviewer. “Don’t marry a president,” she continues later, “I didn’t want fame, I just became a Kennedy.” Her bitterness, questioning her place in the entire situation and the “performance” they’ve put on for the people – it all reveals vulnerabilities of a human side of a public figure. Admitting that her husband wasn’t a man without flaws, after a thought-provoking question from the journalist, provides for another powerful moment.
With so many quotable, memorable bits that lay out Jackie’s personality, it’s difficult not to stay with her as she progresses through the most difficult moments of her life. Larrain’s Jackie is also delightfully gutsy; she confesses her feelings only to withdraw them by asking the journalist if he thinks that she was going to allow him to publish them, or stops him mid-sentence to provocatively question his understanding of her position in the situation with, “Are you giving me professional advice?”
Natalie Portman is brilliant in this portrayal, breathing new life into one of the most iconic characters of the Sixties. There’s a lot of grace in it, but also an awful lot of charisma, eccentricity, and desperation for maintaining her public image at times. Her voice, mannerisms, gesticulation are incredibly realistic; and she climbs to the most potent scenes extremely quickly. Washing her husband’s blood off her face, stubbornly parading in stained clothes in public to take them off in a discomfort of the house that’s now empty and not homely at all, she reaches the peak with her dress-up game and a lonely night with cigarettes in bed. And she doesn’t smoke in case anybody asked, of course, but what’s a girl to do?
An army of people from the Kennedys’ closed environment is introduced to us, too. A remarkable supporting performance underlines also the dramatic potential of Greta Gerwig (superb in Mistress America and recently celebrating successful performances in Maggie’s Plan and Wiener-Dog, with Twentieth Century Women to be released in the UK). As Nancy, she’s a quiet soulmate, patient and full of empathy. John Hurt as a parable-sharing guide through the suffering is also a highlight, alongside Peter Sarsgaard as Robert Kennedy.
There’s a lot of talk in this film surrounding objects in the White House and their significance; and the film recreates Jackie Kennedy’s White House tour in black and white, grainy footage that slips in between the pop of colour in First Lady’s dresses and flattened film colour for the rest of the scenes. Dramatic close-ups also build up the atmosphere of intimacy and the moments that keep the background in motion when the heroine stays still also capture her confusion and shock perfectly. It’s also difficult not to mention the score that becomes prominent in critical moments.
Numinous, profound and memorable, Jackie is a biopic that demystifies a character who was in the public eye throughout the era. It’s about creating the legends for people – and it’s a useful reminder too. Even if we’re not in the era of black-and-white TV, but 4K displays and social media – the mechanisms stay the same.