From the first loud, discordant sounds, viewers chance a view inside the head of an accomplished mid-twentieth century woman, who is suffering. That this woman is Jackie Bouvier Kennedy makes the film “Jackie” all the more intriguing. The subtlety of the disclosures is both apt and true. We see her wince as Lady Bird Johnson fingers fabric samples to replace her own choices. We see her anger roil, her poise set at performance ready. Her loss and her determination fill the screen with what we already know. What we have in Director Pablo Lorrain ‘s film is a psychological study of a cultured woman of her day trying to fabricate meaning out of the chaos of her life.
What better person to orchestrate an insightful look into our American mythology than an outsider. Pablo Lorrain understands women and political image. As a Chilean screenwriter and director, the forty-year-old has earned accolades as producer ( “Gloria” , 2014) and as director ( “No” , 2013 ). In “Jackie”, Lorrain structures his film in the miasmic days after the JFK assassination. We intrude on her spiritual guidance sessions, on her smoking and her costume changes. We see her defiant, lost, and caring above all else on image. Who did not have a mother in the early sixties who did not care what other people thought ?Jackie, here, is a woman of her time. We can smile in knowing that she grows as Jackie O.
Natalie Portman splendidly captures the young widow as poised, practiced, and comfortable in her White House purlieu. There are hints that 1963 Hyannis Port may have occluded her patrician ways.
Bully Crudup plays the then journalist Theodore H. White. His “Life” magazine interview I remember reading as a teenager. The bitterness displayed by Jackie in the cinematic scene seems to center on the career she gave up. I found Crudup’s flummoxes rather baffling. He came across as neither sympathetic nor deferential, but rather interested in impressing Jackie with his journalistic credentials. That she was in control was no doubt the point. She read and edited his notes and let it be known that Jack’s legacy was to be central to the article. “I was a reporter myself.” she almost intones.
The actual planning of the State funeral to mirror Lincoln’s is given the most play. Jackie’ reversals and re-reversals show her constant reordering in the flux and flow of information. Braided with this determination to control are wrenching insertions of the First Lady having trouble peeling off her blood slick stockings, and aimlessly walking through the West Wing rooms. “We must get this right, It must be beautiful” seems to be the chant of the age.
“Brookline is no place to bury a President” is backed up with beautiful fog-shrouded scenes in Arlington National Cemetery. Here we see Portman clomping through muddied grass to select the exact elevation to inter her husband and re-inter their dead babies.
To relive storied history is another reason to see this film. The friction between Robert Kennedy and the newly sworn in President Johnson is well done. Bobby barks at Johnson to sit down in one mid-air shot. Johnson does so reluctantly. He is now the President of the United States of America.
The fact that Jackie wished to speak to Lee Harvey Oswald was my one surprise in “Jackie”. The fact that she asked about the calibre of the bullet was of journalistic interest.
Other cast members were laudable. John Hurt was a worldly-wise priest who could talk of God’s works being revealed through suffering. His succour of “the darkness will not go away, but it won’t always be as heavy” was apt. Peter Sarsgaard was Robert Kennedy without his Bostonian accent, but he supported what we know. Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman was a stretch since we expected something silly to come out of her mouth. Danish actor Caspar Phillipson is a ringer for JFK, at least from the side. It is Portman and her ascribed style that will last. It is the sociological insight of the feminism ,or lack of, that makes this film so interesting. When The dialogue moves from, “I wanted to make Jack proud” to “I did it for myself”, women see movement. That a forty-year-old male brought it to the screen gives me hope.