Pablo Larraín’s Jackie is a lyrical film of trauma, mourning and mythmaking. Natalie Portman creates a stunning portrayal of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, always poised, always beautiful, and always a cigarette away from the darkness that seems to engulf her. The film is achronological – threaded throughout is Jackie’s interview with LIFE magazine her attempt to create a carefully designed myth of her husband. What we mostly see are Jackie’s imagined responses to the journalist’s questions before her correcting pen exorcises all the unpleasant truths (her miscarriages, her husband’s adultery) that she wants to hide. But intertwined between those two strands is footage from Jackie’s tour of the White House given to the NBC and CBS: a glimpse into the idyllic life that America imagined for their presidential couple.
Larrain’s portrayal of the Kennedy funeral emphasizes the fact that Jackie was determined to make it a spectacle based on Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. Her insistence on the spectacular brings many questions: who is she really doing it for? John Kennedy? His legacy? Herself? Her conversation with a priest makes us realize how unsure she is of her own motivations. Yet her tentativeness does not transfer into her actions. All the other characters feel controlled by this very polite and beautiful mourner.
It is only Robert Kennedy (a very good Peter Sarsgaard) that seems to truly care for Jackie and her family. For most of the film she is terrifyingly alone in the humongous spaces of the White House, alone cradling her husband’s shattered body and alone in her insistence that he be honoured. Lyndon Johnson seems to offer little consolation and seeks little more than to be sworn in as president as quickly as possible.
Jackie is determined to preserve her husband’s legacy, to create a utopian ‘Camelot’ from a life that was far from perfect. The final moments of the film — a beautiful image of Jackie in a crimson dress and silk white gloves happily dancing away in the arms of her husband — are a tribute to how far she has succeeded. Jackie tells the journalist who is interviewing her that “the characters we read about on the page end up being more real than the men who stand beside us.” Jackie and her husband as portrayed in this film are in the process of becoming exactly more real than humanly possible. An American myth was born during Jackie’s LIFE interview. This film is a thoughtful tribute to it.
Image copyright: Fox Searchlight. Fair use.