Natalie Portman in 'Jackie'
Director: Pablo Larrain
Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Saarsgaard, Greta Gerwig
This is not exactly a biopic in the strictest of terms, it's merely an exhibition of trauma following JFK's assassination. This is in fact a psychological portrayal of a woman caught in the terrifying glare of public expectation within the aftermath of a post traumatic stressful event.
President John F Kennedy has just been shot dead while on a motorcade through the streets of Texas and the first lady was there right besides him, all the way through to the hospital where he was declared dead before arrival. Here Larrain is intent on letting us get an intimate account of the woman who held her husband's blood splattered body in her arms. Shot in an episodic format, in restless frantic style, the lines between past and present blur within the week following the Popular American President's assassination.
Mica Levi's abruptly tempered score follows Jackie as she wanders and wonders through the muddle that her life has been and has become, following the most defining moment of her life and America's history (as she would like it to be). She wanders through the hallowed portals of The Presidential abode which she so famously redecorated and publicised, in isolation, on a haunting pilgrimage, exploring each and every room, before she turns in for the last time, albeit as a tragic widow yearning for what could have been while struggling with what has.
We expect to learn more about the woman but Noah Oppenheim's script doesn't lead us away from the tragic aftermath a week beyond the assassination. Jackie was revered as a style icon and a strong personality in her own right but all we see here is a tremulous, traumatised, grieving woman caught in the harsh lights of history- a woman who lost two babies before she had two others, a woman who came from an elitist background, a woman who exposed the inside of the white house for public consumption, a woman who even in the traumatic aftermath of the assassination held firm that she had a role to play in how the American public perceived the events following the tragedy. Here she is not exactly powerful but seen as self-obsessed, vulnerable, nervy woman who smokes and drinks too much but would not like the public to get hold of that truth.
The chronologically frantic narrative uses a framing device to lend structure to the narration. It's modelled on the actual interview of the newly-widowed Mrs. Kennedy (Natalie Portman) by Life journalist Theodore White (Billy Crudup). So even though the movie presents the week after November 22, 1963, it never stays in that time period for long. Key events from Jackie's time as First Lady (especially the televised White House tour she gave on February 14, 1962) and the hours and days immediately following the assassination, are exposed through Jackie's words and vision. Frequent jumps through time, flashbacks within flashbacks and graphic recreation of the assassination -while she is in a confessional conversation with a priest (played by John Hurt) play out during her interview with White.
In his effort to contain the spread of events, Larrain creates a soliloquy of repressed grief that is not easy to watch. So it's only Natalie Portman's acting skills that catch the eye here. Aping Jackie in everything from dress to nuance, mannerisms to voice, Portman makes the experience a relentlessly harrowing depiction of loss and grief through a layered conveyance of emotion. But for her aching performance, this film would have been devoid of life itself!
Watch the trailer of 'Jackie'