Written by Noah Oppenheim
Directed by Pablo Larrain
Jack was the third person Jackie had lost during her marriage. Two children, one stillborn and another passing two days after birth marked her journey to this ultimate tragedy, the one death that would resonantly define Jacqueline Kennedy for the remainder of her life. In this unique biopic, we follow the first lady through the four days after her husband was assassinated, focusing on her inner turmoil and the decisions around how she would send her husband off into the collective memory of America. There was a huge chance this film would diverge into empty melodrama; however, director Pablo Larrain chooses to not shy away from the darker, angrier aspects of this moment in Jackie’s life.
Natalie Portman has always been a fairweather actress for me, someone I constantly hear acclaim for but struggle to see her envelope herself in character and cause me to forget the actress. Jackie is likely the best film to date where she accomplishes this, affecting the refined Bostonian accent and body language of the former first lady. Larrain chooses to show Jackie not as she presented herself in the media, the televised tour of the White House, for example, but also a woman put in a devastating situation who didn’t have the discretion to process it the way most of us would be afforded. Every decision Jackie makes from the moment she knows her husband is dead has to be filtered through questions about allowing reporters access, going through back exits to avoid attention and most important of all how will the funerary process shape how people remember the Kennedy presidency?
One of Jackie’s first requests, when asked about funeral arrangements, is research on Lincoln’s funeral. She doesn’t believe wholeheartedly in the comparison between JFK and America’s sixteenth POTUS, asking her driver back to the White House what he knows about James Garfield and William McKinley, putting an emphasis on how these presidents were assassinated but have been forgotten by the majority of citizens. Lincoln is remembered because there were significant accomplishments in his tenure before he was killed. As we delve further, it becomes apparent that the ceremony and grandeur around JFK’s burial is a way Jackie is attempting to keep herself from vanishing into the history books.
Jackie is hyperaware of how her relevance exists only in relation to her husband. She is torn between grieving for the man she lost and feeling herself become a ghostly figure. Once Lyndon Johnson is sworn in as president on the plane in Dallas, Jackie is in the background being “handled” by secret service and the staff. She’s an obligation now, a loose end to shuffle off to Kennebunkport while the business of the nation gets back on track. Because we see this moment in American history through a personal lens rather than a historical one, it gives us a more intimate understanding of what happened. Jackie isn’t wrong that she is to become a ghost, just like Mary Todd Lincoln
While focused on a historical event, because so much time is spent meditation on Jackie’s pain, the film becomes a transcendent film about grieving and mourning in general. By stripping away the Camelot veneer of the Kennedy years, director Larrain elevates Jackie into a genuinely human figure. She’s frail and broken, while fiercely standing up for herself and the legacy of her family. You get the full sense of chaos that floods into the mind in the wake of sudden, striking tragedy. Jackie offers that unique point of view that heightens an appreciation of history.