Jackie

 

            You've seen the posters by now:  Natalie Portman in that pink suit, with that demure pose.  There appears to be a strong physical resemblance.  And if you go back on YouTube and watch even a few seconds of Jackie Kennedy's tour of the White House, you realize Natalie Portman is a very good mimic, as well.  Too bad she can't do anything about her height.  She just looks short for this role. 

            But it's not like her performance comes up short.  She seems to have the nuances, the well-groomed exterior, the awareness that others were watching, the hint of “Camelot”----all acknowledged.  But the movie centers around the assassination, the horrific jolt of it.  The famous swearing-in of LBJ with Jackie alongside, still in the suit with the bloodstains on it.  The dramatic funeral processional, walking behind the horse-drawn carriage to Arlington Cemetery.  She seemed to be comfortable with the necessary pageantry of being a public figure.

            And yet, according to this movie, Jackie was a bit different behind the scenes:  for one thing, a constant smoker.  She was not afraid to confront people, like Jack Kennedy's brother, Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard), who was Jack's Attorney General.  (These days the media would be howling about nepotism.)  No, she wasn't going to exit Air Force One out the back way, away from the photographers.  No, she wasn't going to change clothes and cover up the blood stains.  No, she wasn't going to bury Jack in the Kennedy's family cemetery.

            She granted an interview just a week after the assassination, in the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, where she tells the journalist (played by Billy Crudup) that she didn't know where she was going to live; she really didn't own any place.  She insisted on being able to edit the conversation afterwards, saying that she needed to decide if she said what she actually meant.  She said she kept trying to hold Jack's head together after he was shot, but she also said that she knew he was dead. 

            Jackie is shown having a very close relationship with her personal assistant, Nancy (Greta Gerwig), spending a lot of time talking about scheduling, and protocol, and making arrangements, but less time with her young children, who apparently had a full-time Nanny.  They're not an important part of this film. 

            There is, however, a great deal of time spent in a private conversation with a priest, played by John Hurt.  There, Jackie asks about why God would do such a thing, as to take away the father of two small children.  The priest rambles somewhat, but basically says that there are things we can't know, which, of course, is true.  He also admits that he himself gets into bed every night and looks at the darkness and asks himself if this is all there is.  So you could take that as either realistic empathy or poor encouragement.  Either way, immediately afterwards, they go and re-inter the little coffins of the two babies that she and Jack lost, one stillborn and the other a few hours old, so they could be buried beside their father.

            So, do we really know Jackie better after this movie?  She speaks a lot of words, but we're not sure, afterwards, how much of herself she has actually revealed.  There's one brief flashback of her dancing with Jack (Caspar Phillipson) where they're both laughing and talking and seemingly enjoying one another, but that one brief, shining moment is really the only bright spot.  Everything else is sorrowful aftermath.

            It's not exactly a ray of sunshine on a cold winter's day.  But it is a convincing portrayal of America's version of Princess Diana:  political royalty with celebrity status, partly because of her approchable beauty, and partly because of a certain unapprochable mystique that surrounds her even years after her death.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Who's your favorite First Lady?  Why?

2)                  Who's your favorite President?  Why?

3)                  Do you think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone?  Why?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Assocation