Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.
Natalie Portman wears “grief” with a glint of derangement with precise expertise in Pablo Larrain’s intimate portrait of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy after the assassination of her husband President John F. Kennedy. The assassination of JFK is a moment eternally frozen in time in United States history, constantly on rewind and replay. There’s no forgetting. It is a strange thing, a strange feeling, for such an event to seem always at the forefront of the American consciousness. I was born long after the event but the residue of history lingers, it’s as if the event only just happened, in a way still happening. People tell their stories of where they were when it happened, describe the shock, and people still collect newspapers and artifacts relating to JFK and the Kennedys overall. A morbid American obsession. And director Pablo Larrain’s “Jackie,” is a delicate and fresh contribution.
Much more complicated than the fashion icon and Mother Widow to the American people, Jackie, as portrayed in Larrain’s film, has many masks. We see view her as expertly poised, staged as she gives a televised tour of the White House, introducing its history and the changes she included to provide it with an even richer history through newly acquired artifacts and furniture owned by previous presidents. Her voice is light and airy with a dreamlike quality, it could nearly grate on your nerves, but it works for her. You’re entranced. And then there is the Jackie who has just witnessed her husband shot, gathering pieces of his skull and cradling his head in her lap, and refusing to change out of that iconic pink Chanel suit covered in her husband’s blood.
She’s in a dazed frenzy one moment and sharp-tongued and clear the next. It’s chilling. She does what she wants, how she wants, paying no mind to propriety. What could be mistaken for delusion caused by intense grief were intentional statements, screams to the American people, to the world, for them to see what has happened, to feel it for it is real. “Let them see,” Jackie says with a cool sternness that is a stark cry from the First Lady Tour Guide previously presented. That coolness remains during an interview with a journalist played by Billy Crudup, who is there under the guise of getting her point of view of her husband’s assassination.
Portman is trippy as the First Lady. But that may have been due to the the face-melting eerie ditties of Mica Levi. Your heart feels like it is getting buried in a mudslide. The heaviness is staggering; you feel as detached yet overly aware with a twinge of terror as Portman’s face portrays. Portman has a gift for facial expression, particularly the maddening aspects of grief. She’s as brilliant, if not more so now, as she was in Aronofsky’s, “Black Swan.” Larrain’s “Jackie,” is a gem, devoid of plushy sentimentality and standard biopic narrative form. He goes beyond the pale to grab at the deepest recesses of Jacqueline Kennedy’s mind, giving the icon a level of complexity and respect that has yet to be seen.
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