Jackie: The woman, the myth, the legend


Jordyn Kalman, Reporter

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy is still one of the most controversial and talked about events in American history. It has been retold in countless documentaries, first person accounts, and wild conspiracy theories that add a new spin on the story. But, the new film Jackie takes a different route when recounting this fateful event. It focuses on Jackie Kennedy in the days leading up to and after her husband’s death and explores how the grief, pressure, and emotions affect her.

Jackie is an intimate portrait of Jackie Kennedy’s life framed in an interview based on a real life Time article published after JFK’s death with Jackie Kennedy. The story is told through flashbacks as Jackie slowly reveals the gruesome details of her husband’s death and how she felt through the whole process.

The interview process itself is very interesting to watch. Jackie starts off by establishing editorial control “in case I don’t say exactly what I mean.” At one point the journalist reads back his notes and mentions her smoking a cigarette. Jackie takes a puff and cooly replies “I don’t smoke.” It’s very eye opening to see how Jackie manipulated the press to show off the ideal image of her and her husband. She cared so much about the legacy John would leave behind and strived to carry out an idealized image of him as one of the greatest presidents ever.

This obsession with image and legacy didn’t originate after JFK’s death though. The film reveals that Jackie dedicated her time at the White House to re-gentrifying it with historic artifacts and art pieces as well as having extravagant parties — something no other presidency had done before. She wanted the people to believe her family was living in a “Camelot” and did whatever possible to uphold this image of the perfect family.

The recounts of JFK’s death and the moments after are especially heartbreaking and chilling. It’s hard to watch Kennedy’s head fall in Jackie’s lap, blood and brains spewing everywhere, without getting teary eyed. Portman’s agonizing screams and sobs ring through the room, haunting the audience. The scene left me breathless, as it felt like I was in this moment in history.

Jackie’s emotions continue to be the driving force of the film as she goes from grieving wife to composed first lady to a mom trying to comfort her kids. She even has to channel her strength to fight for her husband’s extravagant funeral against all of her advisors telling her it was too dangerous. Watching this emotional rollercoaster is mesmerizing because her behavior feels so authentic, as if we’re watching archive videos of the real Jackie Kennedy. Watching the psychology of Jackie unfold is very interesting too because she’s such an iconic figure who has been idealized, and this portrayal is free of that bias.

Natalie Portman did a stellar job portraying Jackie, from nailing her unique long island accent and raspy whispers to the poised way she carried herself and the fashion she wore. This performance is the heart of the movie and will be remembered for years to come.

Another beautiful component of the movie was the score composed by Mica Levi which perfectly captured the unsettling, tense, yet vulnerable nature of the movie. The violin strings played sharp notes of different pitches, highlighting the intensity of Jackie’s situation. Levi also utilizes silence to build that tension to a breaking point. The music was raw and powerful and often revealed how Jackie was feeling when there were no conversations going on.

Pablo Larrain’s biopic has succeeded in discovering something new to tell the audience about one of the most studied events in history. Jackie reminds us that the woman herself was more than just a fashion symbol and a pretty, but a truly iconic figure in American history who had to endure so much pain and suffering. This down to earth portrayal of her shows just how much she shaped our nation’s story and how important a legacy really is. Because in the end, as Jackie put it, “The men on the page become more real than the men standing next to us.” It’s up to films like this to tell these stories right in order to maintain the legacies that define our past and determine our future.