Jackie (2016)

Final Rating: 9.4/10

When Billy Crudup’s journalist character asks Jackie Onassis what it sounded like when the bullet went through her late husband’s head, you know you’re getting a grizzly depiction of how the John F. Kennedy assassination went down. Jackie is co-produced by Darren Aronofsky, who was originally slated to direct this film and have his ex parter Rachel Weisz star as the titular former First Lady. Aronofsky and Weisz abandoned their posts, but the former stayed with the project while Chilean director Pablo Larrain got put in charge. Aronofsky’s dismal filmmaking definitely can be felt here, as Larrain’s perception of the tragic event is almost unsettlingly real. Natalie Portman, also an Aronofsky affiliate, was selected for the main role, and the rest is history.

The film focuses on a few select moments during Jackie’s grieving periods. These, along with a few happy memories when her husband was still alive and an interview with a challenging reporter, make up the film. The sequences are mostly out of chronological order. When I asked Larrain why this was so, he replied that he placed each scene in terms of how memories would work during one’s recovery process. The movie dives deeper and deeper into a well brooding with anguish. This is not a Hollywood comeback story; This is hell. The White House is pristine— almost too pristine— with how clean every corridor is, but you can almost see the wallpaper being torn and the carpets being stained. The White House actually looks fake, as if you were a doll in a miniature toy house. How can anything be so gorgeous when the world is so ugly?

One highly respectable piece of Jackie’s recovery is how some of her antics are not quite explained and yet they have explanations. You see her trying on a variety of outfits and getting frustrated with some of her jewelry that won’t clasp on properly. You can connect the dots and realize that she’s rushing to try on combinations she never got a chance to wear as a First Lady, and, quickly, while she is still in the White House, she will try to make at least these dreams come true. Some coping mechanisms get explained, like her want to talk to Lee Harvey Oswald: The man who stripped her of her husband and America of its president. One of the film’s morals is that not everything can be answered or figured out. We can learn that in the meeting room of the president. Bobby Kennedy even remarks that his family will only be known as attractive, and that they could have tried harder with the civil rights movement and other huge political events. Again, not everything can be figured out, and that pertains to death, too.

Let’s clear the obvious firstly: Natalie Portman has given what could be the performance of her lifetime. Black Swan felt like her peak originally, and it’s true that her portrayal of Nina was her best work. However, Jackie Kennedy barely feels like Portman portraying her, and it’s considerably an instance where you can say Portman actually transforms in a way her colleagues (like Gary Oldman and Christian Bale) have done so in the past. Her voice cracks in a way Kennedy’s would, and it crumbles even more so when she collapses emotionally. She shakes with anxiety and almost splutters tears that she suffocates within her. When she is bold before JFK’s death, she is a darling with absolute pure confidence sparked by the joy of living. After the assassination, her strength is robotic, and deep down she feels nothing but death. You also see a cynical side of a woman America deemed a sweetheart, but who wouldn’t be at a time like this? Along with the film, Portman’s take on the late widow is viciously risky, and every  course of action (sweet or sour) is legitimate.

The supporting cast consists of a splendid Bobby Kennedy played by the savagely underrated Peter Sarsgaard, a warming light within the form of a priest played by veteran John Hurt (who is fortunately in this movie for longer than five minutes for once), Nancy Tuckerman played subtly and humbly by Greta Gerwig and more. Billy Crudup does a good job at being endearing enough to be tolerable but inconsiderate enough to be a threat. His journalistic work and the acidic questions he asks definitely shift the film along, but had he been more intolerable the film would feel less of a challenge and more of a chore; Luckily, this wasn’t the case. 

The music, supplied by Mica Levi (known for the frantic score in Under the Skin), is about as chilling as it could get. The score lingers like an impending guilt and strikes like sharp anxiety. The instrumentals are almost thriller-like in nature, and it works because this film, in a way, is a thriller. It’s a confused mind trying to save the person it controls. The long shots that stalk Jackie feel intrusive, and you will feel unclean for following her around. When she washes the blood out of her hair and scrubs the remains off of her face, you will feel immoral for prying. When she stares at herself in the mirror, you will almost want to turn away in case she sees you by accident. It almost feels perverted to listen in on her interview, especially when she forbids the writer from including many of her dark confessions (which, of course, we’re there to hear). I almost expected her to look at the camera during her lasting memory of dancing with JFK because of how invasive we are. 

Larrain mentioned that this was in no way meant to solidify who Jacqueline Onassis was, but it is a cinematic and artistic interpretation of what may have happened behind closed doors. This depiction, either way, is absolutely outstanding. It is the first film of 2016 to actually wow me. There are still many films due soon that have a lot of buzz around them (La La LandArrivalMoonlight, etc.), but Jackieshould definitely be ranked amongst those anticipated releases. It is a harrowing marvel that glamorizes nothing and instead reveals. Seeing Jackie in old television footage feels haunting, like her static ghost is present, or her shell of her former self that has since then been shed has been recorded. It’s one of the few films that received a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival, and there’s no question as to why. It is a defining film for Larrain, Portman and 2016.

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