Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín brings us the days after Jacqueline Kennedy became the most watched woman in the United States and perhaps the whole world. The young celebrity president John F. Kennedy is shot in the head by a gunman and he dies in his wife’s arms as he is being taken to the hospital. This is where Jackie begins, as it focuses on Theodore H. White’s Life Magazine interview with the widow of a famous president and the woman who suddenly felt completely alone.
The film was the perfect platform for an actor to showcase who they are, how they can get under the skin of another to own them and then command the attention of an audience for 100 or so minutes. Jackie is Portman’s labour of love. She owns every frame, every aspect of the narrative. By definition, obviously, the protagonist carries the story if they are playing who the film is about. But uniquely, Jackie is about this idea that grief can be allowed without remorse. Jackie is about that battle that Jackie Kennedy went through, in full public glare, watched and scrutinized for all the roles she was supposed to play.
The film moves between events and spaces. The principle narrative is the semi-interview that Jackie Kennedy gave to Life journalist Ted White. He sits with her, in her home in Massachusetts, near a breathtakingly beautiful lake, in the tranquility of both her country dwelling and her deep-rooted grief, that only has cigarettes for comfort. Jackie speaks out, bursts out what she feels, how she is being judged and what will become of her, but chooses never to allow White to take a single word from it and publish it. It’s both a mind play and a tease. She wishes to yell and scream and speak her mind. She wants to call out the hypocrisy of the world, that doesn’t allow a woman to grieve the death of her husband in quiet and calm, just because they are famous. But she is also a woman who is collected and can portray poise and calm, for her family and her children, as that is expected of her.
The other narrative sees us go in and out of the aftermath, right after the fatal shooting of President Kennedy. We see Jackie grapple with loss and suffering through the sudden loss of privilege, the fairytale of this life she had built around a famous family name, wasn’t there anymore. She is surrounded by an incoming administration, the Secret Service, these loyalists and other people, all telling her what she should do. The other overarching presence is Kennedy’s brother Bobby, played by Peter Sarasgaard (who managed to make me forget, when he was on screen, that it wasn’t his film). She has to face her children and tell them about what happened. She has to make a choice to bury her dead husband, and the conflict of a quiet burial or one for the history books. The most telling part of her post-event grieving comes from her interactions with her priest, who speaks to her gently and in his mild-mannered attempts tells her that in the end, it’s only when we stop looking for answers, that we find solace, for there are none.
Portman’s genius as an actor was not just her ability to play a historical figure with finesse and heart, but with the snobbery that perhaps comes with playing a famous person and the vulnerability that must be by the sudden loss of fame.
After Black Swan, I wouldn’t be surprised if she brings home another gold statue at the end of the month.
Jackie is now playing in theatres.