I found myself alone in this rather old theater, the lights dimmed and the trailers preceding the feature faded into obscurity as Mica Levi’s hypnotic score came into the forefront of the auditorium. I was transfixed from minute one, transfixed by the perfect melding of music, costume design, acting, and cinematography. Pablo Larraín’s approach towards immortalizing an already iconic individual in Jackie Kennedy is something radical that works perfectly.
First and foremost, this unconventional biopic is a devastating portrait of grief that also empowers women in the most respectful and intelligent way only Larraín could pull off. Larraín’s direction is truly superb as he mixes a variety of moments that perfectly set up who Jackie was. There’s something about the way he decides to let each scene bleed into the next that speaks to perfect editing as he juxtaposes the different masks Jackie displayed in front of different people and the way she confronted each situation differently thinking about her image and her image before the American people. Jackie’s extremely intricate methodology of thinking is illustrated beautifully by Pablo Larraín. As to what I was speaking of earlier with the way Larraín juxtaposes different scenes and makes the biopic feel like a stream of memories strung together, I don’t necessarily comprehend how it functions but it works so perfectly I won’t even question it.
Secondly, Larraín focuses a majority of Jackie on analyzing how people meticulously construct the face by which they want to be known while demolishing that artificial perception at the same time. Larraín and Noah Oppenheim, screenwriter, are showcasing how people can become so fixated with the roles they assume that when they lose them they either break-down or try to continue on with the stint despite reality. In the case of Jackie, she’s falls somewhere in-between as she’s stripped from her authoritative power as First Lady within hours of her husband’s tragic demise but still musters the courage to march eight blocks through Washington D.C. in order to give her husband a proper farewell despite the danger that was ever-present days after President Kennedy’s assassination. Now, this is where the tremendous talent that Natalie Portman displays comes into play as she gives one of her best performances to date, perfectly capturing the way Jackie Kennedy could command a situation with a glance or smile.
Now, I would not do this film justice if I didn’t dedicate at least a paragraph to the greatness of Portman’s performance. Not only does she capture the perception of Jackie Kennedy, but she is able to capture the psyche, the perception, the authoritative nature, the realness, and the pure essence of who Jackie was and what she meant. It’s an extremely intricate character and the way Portman delivers with such affinity is remarkable. What struck me the hardest was how she was able to enact grief, first displaying the trauma and denial as she tries to hold together the fragments of brain that have spontaneously scattered all over her, then placing a veil over the wound as she highly valors the perfection of the perception she’s created for herself, and finally the breakdown that sees her trying one funeral dress after another, drowning the sorrow with liquor and remembering her husband’s presidency as Camelot, a fairy tale that ended a long time ago. But in Jackie braveness and commitment to appearance and boldness before the people, by the next day she looks as best she can in a black dress and is ready to march along her children for eight blocks to commemorate the legacy her husband left behind.
As for something I touched on earlier but never fully delved into is how affecting this film transmits the feeling of grief. Maybe it’s Levi’s incredible score or Portman’s performance but chills ran down my spine as Portman tried to keep her husband’s brain from sliding out of his cranium as she bawled in what must have seemed like the most tragic car ride ever. Even more affecting, I felt sick as Jackie Kennedy tried to convey the death of her beloved to her two fatherless infants. It’s devastating and if it weren’t for the juxtaposition between these scenes and the one’s involving John Hurt’s conversations about grievance with Jackie that contextualized each theme and story I might not have left the theater with the attitude of respect with which Jackie left me, but I probably might have exited in an utter state of grievance myself as Larraín’s portrayal of this feeling is so touching and profound.
In finality, Jackie is an unconventional biopic with a poignant philosophy weaved into it. But besides it’s saddening touch, Jackie also empowers the image of Jackie as well as her valiant opposition to fear in her commemoration of Camelot. Natalie Portman is phenomenal and while the rest of the cast doesn’t get to deliver a performance as strong as her’s, Greta Gerwig does a good job with what she’s got and John Hurt who’s sadly passed away recently provides an extensive intelligent back-and-forth conversation with Natalie Portman during one of the strongest narratives of the film where Jackie converses with a priest everything. Mica Levi’s score as I mentioned earlier is a profound and affecting nature and definitely one of or if not the best score for any film last year. Jackie is an unconventional biopic, an unconventional triumph, and a film that should be celebrated for making something as standard as a biopic so unique and affecting in only the way some master director like Pablo Larraín could have transmitted onto film.