Pablo Larrain’s unconventional yet brilliant Jackie is a biopic that feels incredibly relevant, thanks to the historical context of its release date.
Just over a week ago, Donald Trump became President of the United States of America, and one of the most noticeable offshoots of the event was the worldwide Women’s March. Pertinently, Jackie (starring the ever-excellent Natalie Portman) revolves around a woman’s response to another presidential disaster, taking place as it does before and in the immediate days after the assassination of John F Kennedy, on 22nd November 1963. Larrain finds very relatable ideas within this well-known story. For instance, what happens when a woman, who has been defined in terms of her relationship to a man, loses that man?
Jackie attempts to find the private within the communal trauma, and another of the many questions it asks is: when such a cataclysmic tragedy as Kennedy’s assassination is witnessed by millions, how does one begin to experience a sense of intimate personal loss? Perhaps, in the case of Jackie Kennedy, one doesn’t need to. Perhaps one simply needs to get the cameras rolling again, head back out on the streets and give him a public send-off fitting for a public life and public death.
Ironically, Larrain’s film not only charts Jackie’s debate between a televised and private funeral, but also serves to make this period public for cinema audiences as well. His camera is invasive, often placed uncomfortably close to Portman’s face, the frame recreating the sense of entrapment Jackie feels within a nightmare scenario she never signed up for.
“Larrain suggests Jackie is so entangled with the visual medium that her memories appear to us, and her, as film”
One of the reasons for the film’s excellence is that Larrain and Portman do not try to make Jackie Kennedy a perfect person. Rather, Portman revels in exploring the grey areas of her personality: her materialism, her sense of theatricality, her acceptance of her husband’s adultery. She is a woman so exposed to the public eye, yet paradoxically all the more mysterious because of it. Larrain, with his claustrophobic focus on Portman’s face, arguably constructs a point-of-view film here: depicting a woman so picture-ready, her perception of the world is inverted through a camera’s frame graze, whether real or imaginary.
The film alternates between before and after the assassination, interweaving a few pivotal sequences from Jackie Kennedy’s life, beginning historically with Jackie’s televised tour of the White House, representing the first synchronization of her private and public life. The non-linear narrative serves several purposes. It makes the film more of a personal, emotional journey than a historical one. It resembles how Jackie’s experiences with her husband have been tainted by the event, with the good and bad moments becoming intertwined to the extent that they are now indistinguishable.
The irregular sequencing also visually recreates the way in which such memories encroach, disordered and fragmented, upon her later self, triggered by the questions from Billy Crudup’s journalist. Furthermore, with this era embodying a pivotal surge in photography as a medium with which to document history, Larrain suggests Jackie is so entangled with the visual medium that her memories appear to us, and her, as film.
In this film, Jackie Kennedy is confronted with an unthinkable event that forces her to question her place as a woman within society, and is thus eerily familiar to contemporary events. The genius direction from Pablo Larrain, and the acting grandeur of Natalie Portman, combine to make Jackie one of the finest and most urgent biopics in recent memory.
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Media Courtesy of Fox Searchlight and Jackie Productions.