With Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup.
Jackie takes place in the week between when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas Texas in 1963, and when he was buried in Arlington Cemetery several days later. It shows us the point of view of his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy. Natalie Portman carries herself with Jackie’s aristocratic manner, and wears the clothes and hair and jewelry just right. She inhabits the woman in all of her glamor and self confidence. The movie shows how much Jackie tried to control the events immediately following the death of her husband. Can she decide how the funeral cortege will follow the casket? Will people be able to walk, as she originally intended, the way they did at Lincoln’s funeral, or were they going to need protection in the wake of Oswald’s murder?
The movie includes a series of scenes with a journalist (Billy Crudup) visiting Jackie a week after Kennedy is shot, as he asks her questions to fill in the spots the public wants to know about. What did the bullet sound like? What do you really hope for as a legacy of your husband’s brief term? How did you tell the children?
The article in Life magazine, published in early December 1963, included some of the interviews with Theodore White shown on screen. I wonder why the film does not credit this as a source. The canny widow told the journalist (who never has a name in the film, like so many other characters hovering around the periphery of overcrowded scenes — so many Kennedy siblings never identified, and the beloved social secretary only understood to be so toward the end of the film) that he is not allowed to print anything she says he can’t, and after many revealing quotes are given, she says immediately, of course I never said that.
Jackie shows nerves of steel, yet you keep waiting for someone to do something human, like just give the woman a hug. Considering how First Ladies have evolved over the past fifty years, it is telling that her crowning achievement was the redecoration of the White House, with restoration of historical furniture. Women with brains were not allowed to do much more than adorn houses with not just furniture but also themselves.
Overbearing music begins the movie with the first blank screen when very loud violins play a sour refrain, signaling the audience how to feel before seeing a single image. Overwhelming the audience with music is usually a sign that the director has no confidence in the audience to understand what he is doing. What he is doing is plain. Jackie is a modern hero, a woman who survived a horror, and went on to lead a nation in grief for one week. She trained us to think of the Kennedy administration as Camelot, a mythical ideal time.
The supporting cast is excellent, especially Greta Gerwig as Nancy Dickerson, the ever present social secretary, Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, and Crudup as the journalist. I don’t know why we needed quite so much of the re-enactment of the White House renovation tour, especially since the film is painstakingly made to look old and weathered. This adds a note of pretense when the director was probably aiming toward the theme of historical meta-ness. Or is it to show that the TV show of the White House was a dress rehearsal in how to present your husband’s legacy? Jackie had plans, as did her husband, which were shattered on November 22, 1963.