Friday Film Focus: Jackie

There is no such thing as royalty in the United States. If any group ever came close to that level, it would be the Kennedys. More specifically, Jacqueline Kennedy would be carrying the regal torch of opulence. She was the perfect First Lady, armed with a camera-ready smile and iconic fashion sense. It was she who transformed the once stuffy and dowdy interior of the White House into one exuding elegance and grace. She was a force to be reckoned with. Directed by Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín (in his first English-language feature), and written by Noah Oppenheim, Jackie is a mesmerizing look at one of the world’s most famous women. It attempts to enter the scope of her consciousness moments after that fatal day in Dallas in 1963.

The film’s timeline begins a few weeks after JFK has been assassinated. Jackie invited a reporter over to her home for an in-depth interview. The reporter (Billy Crudup) is modeled after Theodore H. White, whom the real Mrs. Kennedy gave a four-hour interview to only a week after JFK was shot. She is an intensely reserved woman, and only allows him to print what she approves. “I hope you don’t for one second think I’ll allow you to publish that,” she states to him after recounting the horrific moment when Jackie held her husband’s bullet-shattered head in her lap. The film only shows a brief part of Jackie’s life, but it’s enough to illustrate a complex and often conflicted woman. She attempts to unravel her own grief from a tragedy not only shared among her family, but also with millions around the world.

First there is the killing, then the hospital where JFK is pronounced dead, followed by the flight out of Dallas where Lyndon B. Johnson takes the oath in becoming President. The film sequences happen so fast only to briefly pause for one of most heartbreaking scenes of the film. Jackie is seen intimately and horrifically wiping off her husband's blood from her face. Larraín allows his actors to have their moments. He leaves them alone and lets the actors create authentic nuances and moments for their characters. The scene is so beautifully shot that it almost leaves you gasping for breath. As depicted in the film, Kennedy refused to take off her blood soaked pink suit after the assassination, telling Lady Bird Johnson, "I want them to see what they have done to Jack." The next few days consist of comforting her children, stalling Johnson’s desire to move into the White House as soon as possible, and organizing the perfect funeral for her husband -- even if that means a funeral march on the streets of Washington D.C. She is ridiculed for making her husband's funeral procession similar to Abraham Lincoln's, mainly due to many believing his achievements were far superior to that of JFK's. However, Jackie understands the arrangement is a critical opportunity in allowing the American public to mourn. More importantly, it aids in cementing JFK’s legacy as a president. An incredible sequence finds her finally alone in her wing of the White House.

Jackie is walking from room-to-room -- drinking numerous amounts of vodka, popping pills, and listening to her husband’s favorite Broadway recording (Richard Burton's “Camelot”). It’s almost eerie watching her as if we, the audience, have invaded her space a little too far. Her only solace and emotional support come from her friend and aide Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig) and a Catholic priest. The relationship between herself and the priest is at the request of her brother-in-law, Robert Kennedy (played by the excellent Peter Sarsgaard). She discusses her fears and her marriage problems with Jack that neither she nor the priest can resolve. As we hear Jackie’s confessions carved out from her grief, the audience is able to substitute feeling over fact. It offers a fuller and more complex picture than any standard biological drama.

In a performance that tops her Oscar winning role in Black Swan, Natalie Portman is flawless as the former First Lady. Embodying any of Jackie Kennedy’s mannerisms is no easy task, but Portman’s intricate performance with her breathy vowels and poise are always suggested -- though never crassly imitated. Cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine is able to capture a very intimate portrayal of Kennedy with his constant close-up shots on Portman. He allows the audience to enter her life and empathize with her as a human being. With help from composer/singer Mica Levi’s hypnotic score, Jackie is one of the best films of the past year. In the midst of personal and public tragedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was the symbol of strength and resilience the nation needed.

Image Source: Bustle

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