I saw Jackie the day after the inauguration, better remembered as the day of the historic Women’s March. It therefore seemed fitting on that Saturday afternoon to see a film centered around one of our nation’s most captivating First Ladies.
Just this morning, Natalie Portman’s performance as Jackie Kennedy received an Oscar nomination in the Best Actress category, and I think it’s one of the most well-deserved nods of the season. She carried this film so fantastically, imbuing Jackie with all of the class and grace that people have come to remember her by, while simultaneously communicating such extreme agony behind every word and gesture. Her voice never rose above a whisper, and there were so many close-up shots that it felt like everyone in the theater was leaning into the screen just for the opportunity to hang onto her every word. It was as if we were eavesdropping, and I suppose we were, considering how jarring the experience of her husband’s assassination was for the whole country, let alone her in private.
Jackie is a film in which editing more overtly crafts tone. It was more of a series of short vignettes than a linear progression of scenes, which was effective for communicating Jackie’s tumultuousness and paranoia with every jump. I also thought that it was clever how the stylized cuts between different moments in Mrs. Kennedy’s story echoed her fine-toothed relationship to the press. That comparison may sound like a bit of a stretch, but when we’re directly faced with a revision process onscreen (for instance, when Jackie grabs a pen and edits her own words on her interviewer’s notepad right in front of him), the film itself becomes more imbued with the sense of having been curated by a group of people offscreen. In other words, Jackie’s precision is echoed by the editor’s precision, her touch by the director’s touch–it’s behind the scenes within the scenes.
Besides portraying a political figure’s strenuous connection to the press (which I think we can all agree is quite relevant at the moment), Jackie also concerns itself with the theme of legacy. I find that legacy has been the focus of a lot of recent works, especially when told through the eyes of those left behind (if you can’t tell, I’m thinking about Eliza in Hamilton).
A lot of understandable focus has been granted to JFK since his assassination, but with that said, I loved how this film shifted some of that attention onto his wife, for whom legacy, history, and tradition were also such major passions. Jackie Kennedy may primarily be remembered for her sensibilities towards class and fashion, but her meticulous preservation of White House artifacts and her advocation for the arts are certainly more than historical footnotes. It’s only fitting that her biopic emphasizes those contributions, and shows how vehemently she wanted to carve not only her husband’s place in history, but her own. As she concludes in the film, “Don’t let it be forgot that for one brief, shining moment, there was a Camelot.”
In short, Jackie is a mesmerizing film with a mesmerizing lead. As a fresh political drama continues to play around us, it’s humbling to watch a more familiar one unfold on the silver screen.