Noah Oppenheim

Movie Review
Jackie:Fortitude in the face of Tragedy

‘Jackie’ focuses on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy, former First Lady of the United States of America, in the days immediately following the pitiless assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy.

As this was a public assassination, many people were witness to the horrific incident and the chaos that ensued, all of which has been well chronicled through history. Scriptwriter Noah Oppenheim chooses to divulge details that would appear to be a blend of fact, his imagination and some instances as related by the real Jackie Kennedy to Theodore H White, a journalist with Life magazine. Indeed, the whole story is relayed as an interview between Jackie and White, interspersed with scenes of the unfolding tragedy.

One can only imagine what pain this woman must have gone through, standing there in her blood-stained clothes as another man is quickly sworn in as president; how quickly the balance of power shifts and loyalties along with it. What reserves of inner strength it must have called upon to go to the cemetery and be given a choice of three locations where her husband could be buried. Mrs Kennedy maintained her poise and dignity during this personally agonizing time, something that the movie tries to bring forth.

Director Pablo Larrain has shot some scenes with moving sensitivity. More than the gruesome image of the First Lady cradling her husband’s bloodied head in her lap, is the telling poignancy as Jackie (Natalie Portman) scrubs her nails fiercely with a nailbrush to remove the dried blood trapped below. There was a deathly hush in the hall as we watched the scene where she takes a shower and pale rivulets of blood cascade down her back. The utter desolation on her face as she moves in seeming frenzy from room to room in the stillness of the night, trying on and discarding several party gowns while knocking back the scotch. The control she tries to maintain as her children want to know: “When’s Daddy coming back?” The grit and hint of steel in the woman shines through when someone tells her to change her clothes and she demurs: “Let them see what they have done.”

It does seem as though no one but Portman could have essayed this role quite so effectively. She has taken great pains to emulate the real Jackie, although that breathless way of talking got on the nerves after a bit. Peter Sarsgaard playing Robert (Bobby) Kennedy has been a very able foil and an apt choice for the role. Billy Crudup as Theodore H White performed commendably.

The camera has been cleverly wielded by Stephane Fontaine. For the actual assassination scene, he chose to use the black-and-white mode of the 60’s, leading one to mistakenly assume these were the real (historic) scenes of the tragedy, until we got a glimpse of Portman’s face. The heartrending close-up of her blood-spattered face and her harsh, guttural sobs was exquisite teamwork by Larrain, Portman and Fontaine.

One wonders why Oppenheim chose to depict the Johnsons as slightly boorish, considering that the real Jacqueline Kennedy always maintained they were very kind to her and President Lyndon Johnson had even offered her the ambassadorship of France. In the movie, he shows a flash of anger at something Bobby Kennedy says, while Mrs Johnson displays a touch of insensitivity in choosing curtain replacements just as Jackie is leaving the White House for good. Moreover, Oppenheim’s Jackie resents being thought of as a dumb debutante, but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary as the real Jackie was praised not only for being a global fashion icon but for her contribution to the arts and, most memorably, for her restoration of the White House.

The background music (Mica Levi) was, quite frankly, horrendous. Funereal and sonorous, the organ was so jarringly loud that it was an assault on the senses and achieved the opposite of the solemn effect it was aiming at, especially when it reached a crescendo ever so often. Editing by Sebastian Sepulveda was spot-on.

In the aftermath of the movie, one is left mulling thoughtfully over one of Oppenheim’s lines: When something is written down, does that make it true?

   Punam Mohandas

Punam Mohandas is a journalist and author who is also a film buff, accomplished travel writer and an expert on South Asia. She also writes columns on film personalities. She has lived and worked in India, Dubai and Bangkok..

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