Jackie (2016)
February 14, 2017 10:55 PM - Subscribe

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.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Holy. Fucking. Crap. I haven't seen La La Land yet, but I can't imagine it's better than this.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:56 PM on February 14, 2017

JFK Jr and Caroline's onscreen toys include a golliwog doll. I haven't seen any irl contemporary pictures proving that this was actually true.
posted by brujita at 4:57 PM on February 15, 2017

My wife saw it and thought it was awful. Personally, when I first saw the trailer, I thought it was a joke. "There's no way they're making *another* Kennedy movie," I thought. Wasn't that Katie Holmes TV miniseries just a couple years ago?

Anyhow, this will go down in history as the first movie my then-three-week-old daughter ever saw.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:47 PM on February 20, 2017

I don't usually like non-linear narratives but the jumping around this one did I thought was really powerful, and Natalie Portman was excellent. The other actors, whatever, but Portman was really excellent.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:01 PM on February 20, 2017

I liked it, my dad thought it was a character assassination. I thought she came off as very real, and the movie was an interesting look at an incredibly difficult transition period for her.
posted by graventy at 8:45 AM on February 21, 2017

"my dad thought it was a character assassination."

That's interesting, why did he think that? I thought it "felt" like being lost in grief feels like, with the non-linear structure and the scenes that were played as hyperreal or surreal or driftingly slow. But it struck me much more as a meditation on grief using a very public example than a biopic per se.

(If I went in expecting a biopic I guess probably wouldn't have liked it, but I knew about the non-linear narrative from reviews so I wasn't expecting it to be terribly straight forward.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:12 PM on February 21, 2017

I came away from it thinking Grey Gardens must have been part of the homework. That said, Portman's accent and mannerisms were perfect.

That was archival audio of JFK's voice in the final "clip" from the White House tour, right?
posted by emelenjr at 9:31 AM on March 8, 2017

As someone who would have been more than content to never hear about the Kennedys again in my lifetime, I was astounded by Jackie. So much so that after it was over I had to watch it again before I could even think about watching anything else, something that doesn't happen for me very often at all.

Thinking about the film, one of the first things that strikes me is that the movie is structured around an absence, that of JFK, with the majority of the plot being set around the reactions to his assassination, changes that causes in the White House, and plans for his funeral. JFK, in that sense, is the dominant figure in the film as his assassination not only looms over everything we see, but its his life and death that all the characters in the film are thinking about and responding to. At the same time, while the JFK presidency serves as the unmistakable set around which all the other characters move, the movie isn't about him and doesn't simply use his death as an opportunity to define JFK through the reactions of others to him, a more common approach for building a story around an absent figure.

Think, for example, of Harry Lime in The Third Man, where Harry isn't seen for the first two thirds of the movie, we instead build an image of him through the reaction of the other characters to Lime, before finally seeing him in the last third, where he, in a sense, takes over the movie from Holly Martins, who had been our main figure of identification up until Lime arrives.

With Jackie though, while the plotting centers around response to JFK, the movie remains firmly attached to Jackie as its focal point. It's how she is responding that matters, not to whom or what she is responding to. This effectively raises and then, over the course of the film, answers the question of why we should be interested in this woman at all. She is, in a way, only of importance because of her relationship to JFK, not because of anything of her own. To the extent we know or care about Jackie Kennedy it's because she was the wife of John F. Kennedy in broad historical terms. And yet there is more and that more is what the movie seeks to establish and define over its running time.

A difficulty is added though in that Jackie Kennedy can't really be looked at directly, we see her mostly in reflection of her life as wife to JFK. So what we come to know about Jackie, or more accurately, what we might come to infer about her is largely due to how her actions stand in contrast to those of others, how those others respond to her, and through a set of complex readings of her "performance" as wife of the former president. We see her through a double remove essentially, where she is outwardly completely transparent to the audience in what she does as she is the focal point of every scene, and at the same time constantly opaque as those scenes aren't directly about her as an individual, only her as a wife/widow, while indirectly we are constantly being led to wonder about her interior state, who she "really" is perhaps, and where her actions are coming from. With it's narrow scope of reference, the movie suggests a great deal about her in that way, but ultimately refuses to grant the audience full access to her character, leaving us to rely on inference and supposition to try and fill in what we aren't given.

What we are shown though is remarkable, in its complexity as a narrative and as filmed and as a character examination of Jackie and those around her. The movie demythologizes the JFK legacy and the characters involved to an extent, showing them as more flawed and human than many of the more hagiographic takes on those figures allow. The varnish is removed, but no new paint is applied nor pieces torn down, everything is allowed to simply remain unfinished, and to be appreciated as such.

To do this, the movie alternates between scenes of intimacy and distance with and from Jackie, moves between personal and the persona in how she relates to those around her, and takes pain to delineate the nature of the relationships involved between all the principals in the cast. To establish its method, the film opens on a moment of naked, but silent grief, where we see Jackie's emotional state after the funeral of JFK, then moves to introducing the journalist who's interview with Jackie will provide something of a frame for the recollections and actions we will follow for much of the film.

The interview itself is combative, guarded, with some moments of intimacy allowed, but then, just as quickly, deleted from "the record" of public consumption. The camera will follow these changing dynamics by sometimes setting up in close proximity to Portman, allowing the audience unrestricted access to her emotional state often framed in a seeming haphazard or unbalanced manner, then follow that with a scene of heightened formal framing, characters seem at a distance, perfectly balanced in the frame. The conversations themselves show both the journalist and Jackie as sometimes responsive or involved in a perhaps personal reflection, and then guarded or confrontational. Think, for example, of the exchange where Jackie asks the journalist if he wants to be famous, which he denies, but will unquestionably become by dint of the interview which she points out and he, and the audience know, makes his denial a hollow one. His frustration too is clearly evident when being faced with both answers he knows aren't entirely true as well as her revelations and deletions of comments that he will not be allowed to write. There is then a mutual performance being conducted by both parties which each is aware of, and that itself is as much of the "story" for the audience as the relating of events, which may or may not see light of day in his account.

The same carries through with Jackie's relationships with others in the White House. Her relationship with Nancy is highlighted by the roles the two women are playing in the administration, balanced against some deeper feeling of connection between them that can't perhaps fully form due to their roles. Nancy guides and consoles Jackie, but is restrained by her place from being able to respond informally to her. We also see Bill Walton offering advice to Jackie and acting as both something of a confidant and ally in helping with her changes to the White House interiors before seeing him taking on that same role with Lady Bird later on. Even the advice of the priest is rendered questionable, not in its purpose, but in its depth of personal meaning by Hurt's portrayal of him seeming perhaps not entirely attentive and perhaps offering more generic than specific advice as with as parable. Almost all the interactions in the film have these layers of uncertainty to them, where personal interests can't readily be viewed without consideration for the professional roles each character plays. Only Jackie, due to her unique role during much of the film, as surviving wife of the assassinated president is relatively unconstrained by demands of other characters. And through this she is forced to find the definition for herself and her family that she wants almost alone.

That is the heart of the story being told and is carried through to a beautiful and horrible irony that is so much a part of Jackie's legacy. In dealing with the death of her husband, the president, Jackie is continually moving between her own feelings and needs and that of the public which will define the legacy of her family. Her grief is matched by her determination to not allow others to control the discourse over who she and her family are. The film is in this way a demonstration of the costs of allowing others control as well as an example of the multilayered nature of "meaning" or message involved as each person's perspective is so inextricably linked to their position in how it is perceived and in how it can be shared.

There is a moment in the film where Jackie mentioned she thought Nancy might have been jealous of her, but then says no one would be jealous of a woman who lost two children and had her husband killed in her arms. And while that is true, the dread irony of the film lies in how Jackie responded to those horrors, her response largely defining the legacy of JFK, to who she "owes her fame", and even more for providing an example of public response to personal tragedy. At the end of the film we see Jackie riding in past shops where mannequins are being put up dressed in Jackie's trademark style. Her conduct in grief exemplified her character and people responded, perhaps not in jealousy, but in admiration. It is, in a sense, a story of emotional labor on the world stage. That is the heart of the film's story of Jackie and it is a moving and profound view of the complexities of relationships.

I could go on and mention so many individually powerful moments in the film, the salutary and rightly horrifying treatment of the assassination, all the moments of dialogue that echo back and forth in the film taking on different meanings as we link them to different circumstance, the way Camelot is used as perhaps a personal response and/or perhaps a more calculated public one, the production design or more on the camera work, or even mention a few of the moments where I felt the film briefly might have hit some false notes, but in the interest of maintaining at least some relative brevity I'l skip that and only add one final little note about why I saw the movie in the first place given my coolness on hearing another story about the Kennedys.

I rented the movie because of its excellent poster/cover design. It too is a remarkable, and yet simple seeming piece of work. It is a bit reminiscent of the poster for I Am Love, where the lettering of the title in interaction with a more formal pose of the central character reveals something of an emotional summary of the film in a single image.

With the Jackie poster, we see the character in the fashion she is noted for, something Cassiniesque, but it and the entirety of the background of the poster are blood red. Portman is poised but hints at a slight informality in her stance by her look off camera and the way she is holding her hands, some slight concern or question perhaps is occupying her thoughts, but we can't know what. And the title lettering reinforces both that opacity and her interiority by seeming to wrap around her as if in an embrace, but also acting as something of a shield, the title, her name, acting as an obstruction from anyone getting closer, while appearing almost as another article of clothing for Jackie herself. The shock of her skin tone and pearls against dominant deep and receding red of the majority of the poster makes her seem vulnerable, while her dark hair and eyes holds her grounded in the image and draws our eyes back to her expression which we might continue to seek to understand. It's really great work and I just couldn't pass the film by due to the image gripping me so strongly even before I knew how the film itself played out. It's one of the rare seeming examples of great care going into all elements of a film.

I'd apologize for the essay length of my response here, but since it doesn't seem like many people go back to older movie posts anyway, I figured I may as well try to provide some explanation to my enthusiasm for the movie.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:45 AM on April 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Thank you for writing that, gusottertrout. I'm not a super-sophisticated film viewer but this film just knocked my socks off, and I was struggling to explain why; you gave me some of the reasons.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:19 PM on April 1, 2017

Thanks Eyebrows McGee, I'm glad that all made at least some sense. I just hope more people will see the movie and want to add their thoughts on it since there really is so much more to talk about, even just around the effect some of the scenes had. It's difficult enough to find any movies that can avoid slipping into easy cynicism or romanticize their subject, but to do that in a movie about a political figure is even more special still.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:09 PM on April 1, 2017

I came here to say how much that that I liked this film and then read susottertrout's epic comment and can't see how I can add much.

I wasn't prepared for how much of a gut punch the assassination scenes at the end would be. Christ, I've got tears in my eyes for a president who died six months before I was born.
posted by octothorpe at 6:38 PM on August 15, 2018

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