Movie Review: Jackie

Jackie was truly an excellent film. At first I wasn’t sure how I was going to like it, but it definitely was intense and left me holding my breath for a pretty long time (seeing as how it was produced by Black Swan‘s Darren Aronofsky, this isn’t surprising in the least). It takes place in the immediate aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, and is centered on the trauma that his wife, Jacqueline (“Jackie”), dealt with. The movie opens up with her talking to a journalist who is writing about her perspective on JFK’s assassination. The movie is so brilliant because it focuses on Jackie telling her side of the story and how she is actually quite knowledgeable about the field of journalism, having once been a reporter. She tells Billy Crudup’s character that as someone with experience as a reporter, she knows that the press expects someone like her to try and tell a story that the public wants to eat up. However, as a private person, Jackie was caught in a bind because these people wanted her to share these intimate details of the assassination with them. As she is recounting the details of the assassination, however, you can only feel her pain at having to remember these details, just as anyone who has ever experienced any kind of trauma will feel when people who never went through what they did expect them to simply just tell their side of the story without feeling any kind of emotional exhaustion or pain whatsoever. Not only did she have to figure out how to maintain her confidentiality, but also she had to prepare for her husband’s funeral, she had to tell her children about the assassination, and she had to leave so that Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson could move in as the new President and First Lady.

If Jackie taught me anything, it’s this: the events in history themselves often get warped when people put their own interpretations on them. Bias in telling history is inevitable. As Jackie says towards the end, people love to believe in fairy tales. However, Jackie and John’s marriage wasn’t some perfect fairy tale. They had relationship issues and problems just like everyone else (not to mention the numerous extramarital affairs JFK apparently had behind Jackie’s back. No one taught me this in history class). They were human beings who just happened to be the President and First Lady of the United States. And Jackie knew that JFK wasn’t perfect and that he slept with these women behind her back. However, that didn’t change the fact that his assassination was going to traumatize her for a very long time. Just a few hours after JFK’s assassination, Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife are sworn in as President and First Lady. While we don’t get as much detail into the rapport between Lyndon and John, or Lady Bird and Jackie, the movie focuses on how stressful the rapid transition was for Jackie. Probably one of the scariest scenes of all (besides the scene where JFK gets assassinated) is when Jackie is walking in the Oval Office with her clothes bloodied. She walks around with this numbness that gave me goosebumps. When she describes to the reporter the assassination in great detail I literally felt my heart go heavy. After seeing the film, looking at the poster for Jackie gave me chills in the same way that looking at the poster for Black Swan gave me chills after seeing it.

Another thing I loved about the film was the score (courtesy of Micachu, or Mica Levi, who I had little knowledge of before seeing the film. I am glad though because the only female film composers I knew of were Rachel Portman and Germaine Franco ). It has these slides in the strings at the beginning that gives the film its unsettling character, and there is one scene in particular that will stick with me for a while, and that is when the cellist Pablo Casals is performing at the White House, and as he is performing, the camera cuts to Jackie sitting in the center seat and front row of the audience, staring in awe and contemplation as Pablo performs. It is a deeply chilling moment because it is one of the memories she shared with her husband before his assassination. The music is rich with strings, and while I’m sad she didn’t win for Best Original Score at the Oscars (La La Land won) it is still an amazing score.

Another lesson that Jackie taught me was that you need to see history from more than one perspective. When I was in AP US History we went so quickly through our 1960s unit that some of the historical events covered in Jackie I didn’t know until I saw the movie. In one scene(this article articulates the scene way better than I ever would), Jackie is coping with her husband’s death by drinking several bottles of alcohol and taking medications while the song “Camelot” is playing in the background (she tells the journalist that she and John would listen to the Broadway musical Camelot before bed). This scene gave me chills because it’s this super upbeat song but then later in the film Jackie keeps saying that while she and her husband lived a Camelot like life when he was alive, there is no longer a Camelot now that John is dead. The upbeat song, juxtaposed with her trying on various dresses and sitting at the Oval desk and replaying the trauma over and over again in her mind, forced me to sit back and really think about how deeply the assassination of her husband messed up this young woman’s life.

Before watching Jackie, I would always pass by the grassy knoll near Dealey Plaza and never paid much mind to it, and I thought for a second, “Hmmmm this is kind of morbid. Everyone’s snapping pictures at the place where JFK got shot”. But after seeing this film I don’t think I’ll ever look at this grassy knoll the same way again. In fact, thinking about that knoll reminds me of the emotional, psychological and spiritual toll that JFK’s assassination had on Jackie. But of course, the history books, especially in a place like Texas, won’t tell you all that. That’s why I recommend they show this film in high school history classes during the 1960s unit, and yes, the shooting of JFK is shown in pretty vivid detail, but the film is so important because I don’t even remember my history teachers even giving us Jackie’s perspective on the assassination. Kids need to know the perspective of Jacqueline Kennedy on her husband’s death because it will show them how important it is to look at history from different perspectives, especially if the figure, such as Jackie herself, was a private person who wanted to maintain control of the narrative that other people wanted to impose on her. Critical thinking is so important and when you watch films like Jackie, it teaches you how to digest history in a way that encourages students to ask questions and have discussions about the material. Overall, I think this film is important to watch, and Natalie Portman’s haunting and poignant portrayal of Jackie Kennedy will stay in my brain for quite a long time.

Jackie. 2016. 1 hr 40 min. Rated R for brief strong violence and some language.

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