So last night I watched Pablo Larrain’s, critically acclaimed – Jackie. This film delivers on a very thorough account of Jacqueline Kennedy’s pain and grief following the assassination of President John, F Kennedy.
I was drawn to this film by the starring presence of one of my favourite actresses, Natalie Portman. For me Portman is, and always has been, a special actress. From her young role in Luc Besson’s, Leon: The Professional (1995), where she plays Mathilda, a 12-year-old aspiring ‘hit girl’, and one of my all time favourite films, to her more recent performances, where her remarkable ability to take on far from comforting roles are ceaselessly engaging.
So where to begin with this film…
For me, watching Jackie resembled being forced to listen to someone holding the notes D then B on the piano over and over. I feel awkwardly attentive, anxious for it to end yet genuinely entranced by its unclear intent. Similarly this film plays on an understated, colourless retelling of an almightily haunting event. This is not to say that this recitation is in any way an unsuccessful piece of work, it is in fact extraordinary. In the same way the piano holds me there, this film is truly hypnotic.
Jackie relies on hushed, sombre and expressionless tones, contrasted with the desperately poignant pink, bloodied Chanel suit, which furiously holds our attention. Yet this film cleverly remains in a state of composed emotion, where the sense of forced calmness simply heightens the depth of tragedy. As a result this film has absolutely nothing to hide behind in taking on such an eminent event.
As with anything uncomfortable, whilst watching Jackie I battle with finding the drive to continue, to really focus on its purpose, it’s worth. I am clear in the knowledge that, as with all her performances, Portman yet again examples an exceptionally steady commitment to her role, with a determined attempt at encompassing all that is Jacqueline Kennedy, speaking in a slow and breathy cadence and holding herself with collective distress. Portman is genuinely mesmerising, her dedication to Jackie is unquestionably evident yet I stand to question whether this is enough to persuade me of liking this film.
Having said this, essentially this film lays out a very detailed account of a very private story – of a widow coming to terms with the murder of a beloved husband, which although when occurred was brutally publicised, the aftermath is terribly personal. Thus it stands to reason that we are not in for an easy viewing and ‘liking’ this film is thus too simple a request.
As this film progresses, Jackie remains cold, inflamed by Portman’s harsh adaptation, which along with her hyper ‘affected’ accent and her over- composed stature is perhaps almost too cold at times. Even in Jackie’s more heightened displays of grieving emotion, I can’t seem to quite get to grips with the ‘real’ Jackie. For the first time ever I find myself questioning whether it is Jackie Kennedy or Natalie Portman here who isn’t likeable. But again, I must remind myself that we are watching the disturbing portrayal of a woman’s madness in grief and this unlikable depiction is found in an intentional and natural detachment from everything around her and, is for me where this film’s claustrophobic sense resonates. Thus I turn to admire this picture of grief, this interpretation of its effects in response to a situation so far removed from my understanding and one Portman stirringly recalls.
I further believe that the sense of ambiguity that is associated with this film resides I think, in its rapidity. This short time period allows for no character normality, no emotional development and no relieving closure. It presents an unremitting, widely intense time of pure incredulity at a truly incredulous time.
Artlessly put, Jackie is a film which, to watch feels like you’ve turned on the TV to find your half way through a movie about the Kennedys, however you’ve missed the inspiring, uplifting presidency part and are now left with the unavoidably awful end. I suppose you’re almost left thinking – why have I chosen to watch only this part of the story, the part that focuses purely on pain and one I am already deplorably familiar with. However again I argue with myself that this is a story that spotlights her not him and I think this here is exactly where attention is worthy…
Portman and those others around her (actors and actresses that intentionally fall forgotten to the concerted presence of Jackie herself) are quietly powerful and gently portrayed. Bobby Kennedy played by Peter Sarsgaard in particular is as subtle as a feather. His character is determinedly supportive, whilst detracting nothing from the focus of our key woman.
Ultimately, this is a film about a woman, a wife and mother who takes on the unwanted pressure of the press and the world in the midst of an unholy event. A first lady who, always second to her husband, is now first to his murder and a killing that powerfully yet fatefully connects her to the public. We are not faced with a glamorous retelling of a Jackie who is disingenuously mournful and histrionically grief stricken, a Jackie that entreats to the desires of a society that expects Hollywood dramas and overt emotion. We are here given an almightily raw and honest depiction that delves deeper and deeper into a woman’s agony and is certainly one to be admired.
Although I find myself no closer to understanding the woman that was Jackie Kennedy, I do find myself enthralled by the careful retelling of those unnervingly private succession of events that followed November 22nd 1963.
I would certainly recommend this film but advise those to keep in mind its difficult viewing. It is one indeed worth watching, for Jackie herself, if nothing else.