Jackie movie review: Natalie Portman channels a deeply troubled Mrs Kennedy
The film starts with a black screen and music that establishes a deep sense of foreboding, a sadness, a hint that something has gone awry. Mica Levis' score helps introduce the visibly distraught titular character Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman).
Pablo Larrain's Jackie, a film that follows the life of the 35th first lady of the United States soon after her husband's assassination, is measured, and respectfully dissects her decisions, her fame, and the icon she was. Portman, remarkably, pulls off the look, the poise, and her distinguished accent quite naturally.
Her acting is on point as she expresses shock, anguish, pride, doubt, envy, and, perhaps most significantly, grief, without letting slip the persona the world remembers.
Jackie spirals between two time frames. One, in the present where Mrs Kennedy is looking back at the week where JFK died, narrating her version to journalist Theodore White for an exclusive in LIFE magazine. The other, is a retelling of history, from that fatal presidential motorcade, to the first lady's much televised tour of the White House.
Theodore White's article is still available for all to read, but the conversation that led to the article forms the backbone of this film. In it, Jackie Kennedy comes to life as a cigarette-smoking, conflicted widow, grieving, but also looking to forge a certain history.
Jackie, without enunciating it, explains why Mrs Kennedy created the myth of Camelot, one where JFK was to forever be remembered as the true King Arthur, saviour of America. “There will never be another Camelot,” she was quoted, famously, in this interview.
“The Cold War leader who would 'bear any price to insure the survival of liberty' was subsequently viewed as an idealistic peacemaker in the image of The Once and Future King,” writes author James Piereson, adding, “Difficult as it may be to accept, the posthumous image of JFK reflected more the idealistic beliefs of Mrs Kennedy than the practical political liberalism of the man himself.”
The film though, doesn't quite display her as an 'idealist' as much as an ideator. She feels the responsibility for keeping their memory alive, much as the Lincolns will forever be.
It is hard to be a widow, but harder still to be a widow under the spotlight, a spotlight that seems to interrogate, to constantly demand what her husband truly did for the country. Was he a hero, or at least, did he die trying to be one?
Jackie paints Jackie Kennedy as the saviour of the Kennedy legacy, the one who established JF Kennedy as a hero in making, and herself as not “some silly little debutante” as she coolly says in the film.
Natalie Portman has struck Oscar gold before, not that the academy alone can validate an actor's work. But Portman's work in Jackie is remarkable, mostly because of the silent moments where she captures the grief and horror that Jackie Kennedy must have felt after JFK's assassination.
The silence, coupled with Levis' haunting music, puts the spotlight on Portman's acting. And she shines. She maintains quiet composure, steely faced in public, distraught and perhaps suffering from PTSD alone in the White House. She sashays through the hallways, wearing clothes and pearls from a better time, unable to sleep, unable to live.
While all of this sounds like extreme drama, Portman is measured. Larrain's direction ensures that Mrs Kennedy, even while she's wailing, holds her head high.
Through Portman's ability to emote, we see moments of silence and turbulence, of introspection, that directly lead to incidents in history. Why did Jackie Kennedy choose to not wash off her husband's blood? Why did she walk down with his body to Arlington? Did she enjoy showing the world the White House?
These questions may not be directly answered, but Portman's stellar expressions suggest answers no dialogue ever would.