Pablo Larrain takes a new stance on a historical moment in American history and the aftermath of its effects on both the individual and the nation in his new biopic ‘Jackie’. ‘Jackie’ portrays the story of the aftermath of president John F Kennedy’s assassination on November 22nd, 1963. The film begins a week after the president has been shot dead on a tour of Dallas Texas. An interesting place to start, Larrain’s decision to begin his story en medias res immediately thrusts the audience into a point of involvement. Jackie Kennedy, portrayed by Natalie Portman, who was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of the First Lady, from the offset, obtains the audience’s sympathy whilst simultaneously refusing to accept it. She is a woman who refuses to be pitied for the death of her husband and she is a woman who refuses to stay passive and dormant simply because she has been thrust into the point of tragedy. An interesting decision to begin the film after the death of the president, the film’s title ‘Jackie’ sums up the purpose of the film: to demonstrate the extent to which Jackie Kennedy, even in the face of tragedy, continues living and continues surviving. The film is unapologetic in tone and being presented to a contemporary America with Trump as president demonstrates what America has truly lost in the 21st century: elegance and poise and a belief in its presidential leaders. Jackie Kennedy as a woman emphasises all of the above traits.
One of the most noteworthy scenes of the film was arguably the portrayal of JFK’s assassination. A brutal and tragic moment in American history, it would have been so easy for Larrain to portray this moment in a way which seemed tasteless and tactless. However, contrary to this, instead the moment he is assassinated, the camera pans into a close-up of Jackie Kennedy who is sobbing and holding her husband’s wounded head in her hands. For a brief perhaps five seconds, we see the victim of this assault that is Jack Kennedy but the emphasis of this scene on Jackie once again reinforces that this is a film not about her husband, but the effects of his death on her and how she copes with this tragedy. This moment in the film almost feels like an invasion of the privacy of Jackie which is arguably exactly what Larrain portrays throughout: a woman thrust into the media spotlight and whose every move is scrutinised by the very press that once favoured her and her husband during his years of presidency. There is as Mark Kermode quotes in his review in ‘The Guardian’ a ‘grotesquely… [and] horrible intimacy’ surrounding the film and its voyeuristic approach to a widow’s grief.
Natalie Portman, as mentioned, was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Jackie but I wasn’t wholly convinced by her performance. Her accent for example, although extremely accurate of the real Jackie Kennedy (for evidence of this look up ‘Jackie Kennedy’ on YouTube), took a while to adjust to and was at times extremely off-putting in an otherwise notable film. For example, her accent, a combination of almost Britishness with an American twang, at one particularly notable moment when Jackie confronts Bobby Kennedy on his decision to position her alongside guards in Jack’s funeral procession, distracted from the deep and intense emotion that she was evidently expressing at her lack of control over the situation. This distraction felt awkward and almost frustrating because as an audience you so deeply wanted to feel and understand her grief over the loss of her husband and this became difficult to do when at times, you could not even understand what it was she was saying.
Likewise, another critical comment that I must add is the extent to which the music often dominated the scene. At crucial points of the film when perhaps less would have been more in terms of its effectiveness on the audience, the soundtrack screams with the sounds of violins in order to remind the audience that this is a film which has all of the trappings of an Oscar movie: the leading lady nominated for an Oscar because of her role in a political film? Check. Elegant costumes? Check? A dominating musical score? Check. This distraction for me as an audience took away moments that could have been extremely heartfelt and profound.
Pablo Larrain’s biopic ultimately achieved what any biopic sets out to do: to portray someone well known in a way that has never been done before. ‘Jackie’ overall, was honest, intimate and genuine in its portrayal of grief and seeks to act as a reminder of the effects that tragedies in American history have on both one individual and the whole nation.