Jackie: Complex, Ambiguous Portrait of First Lady, Starring Portman in Oscar Caliber Performance

As directed by the gifted Chilean director Pablo Larrain, and scripted by Noah Oppenheim, Jackie presents an intimate portrait of one of the most important and tragic moments in American history, the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

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The conversations, events, decisions and actions, which took place during the three days after the shooting, are seen entirely through the perspective of the iconic First Lady, then known as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.

Like Neruda, Larrain’s other film this season, Jackie concerns a unique, charismatic persona, beloved by the people–even before Kennedy was elected.

JACKIE – Trailer

The movie as a whole is by no means a conventional Hollywood biopic–it certainly does not qualify as a chronological account of Jackie Kennedy’s rise to international fame and then abrupt disruption due to the most unanticipated–and collectively dreaded–incident.

By narrowing the thematic focus, and reducing the number of dramatic persona, Larrain has made shrewd choices, resulting in a searing, often too emotionally painful story to watch–or to easily digest.

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In the titular role, Natalie Portman renders an astonishing performance, one that’s at once heartbreaking and fierce, and one that should garner her yet another Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Related: How Natalie Portman Perceived and Prepared for her Role

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From first frame to last, the movie places us in Jackie’s world during the days immediately following her husband’s assassination.  Known for her extraordinary dignity, elegance, and poise, we see a psychological portrait of the First Lady as she struggles to maintain her husband’s legacy and the world of “Camelot.” which they had created and loved so much.

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Jacqueline Kennedy was just 34 when her husband was elected President of the United States. Elegant, stylish, and inscrutable, she instantly became a global icon, one of the most famous women in the world, her taste in fashion, décor and the arts, were widely admired.
On November 22, 1963, while on a campaign trip to Dallas, John F. Kennedy is assassinated–and Jackie’s pink suit is showered in her husband’s blood.

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As she boards Air Force One back to Washington, Jackie’s world – including her religious faith and personal value system – is completely shattered.

Traumatized and reeling with grief, over the course of the next week she must confront the unimaginable: consoling their two young children, vacating the home she painstakingly restored, and planning her husband’s funeral.

 

Jackie quickly realizes that the next seven days will determine how history will define her husband’s legacy – and how she herself will be remembered.

Director Larrain begins with the premise of, “His 34-year-old wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, was sitting next to him,” asking one chief question, “What was it like for her?”

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We all know the story of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.   But what happens if we focus only on her?  What was it like during those next three days, drowning in grief, her children shattered, the eyes of the entire world centered upon her?

Larrain perceives Jackie as a queen without a crown, a woman who lost both her throne and her husband within seconds.  But after watching the film, my impression is that Jackie was–and still is in our collective memory–a princess in a fairy tale, some of which was created/fabricated by her and her handsome husband Kennedy, and some was created/fabricated by the mass media at the time.  TV and print could not get enough of Jackie during the less than thre years that they reigned at the White House.

Stylish, desirable, sophisticated, Jacqueline Kennedy was one of the most photographed and documented women of the 20th century. And yet, we know very little about her. Intensely private and inscrutable, she may be the most unknown known woman of the modern era.

Says Larrain: “I like to think that we’ll never be entirely sure about her. We’ll never know her smell, or the sparkle in her eyes when in her presence. All we can do is search. And put together a film made of fragments. Slices of memory. Places. Ideas. Images. People.  President Kennedy died young – his time in office cut abruptly short, his few achievements in real danger of being forgotten.  Even through the fog of her own trauma, Jacqueline Kennedy knew – someone had to finish his story. Over the course of just a few days, she transformed her husband from a man into a legend.  She defined his image and consolidated his legacy. And in doing so, she herself became an icon, known forever to the whole world by just her first name, Jackie.”