Jackie: An astonishing film that challenges reality, fiction and history

Independent Cinema, Reviews

“I believe the characters we read on the page become more real than the men who stand beside us”.

If I could sum up Jackie in a quote that would be it. A lot has been said about Jackie, mostly (not to say almost exclusively) about Natalie Portman’s flawless performance. I think Jackie is much more than that, it is an extraordinary biopic (“biopic”) about perception, image creation and the thin line between reality and fiction at a time when most of our contact with reality comes from preconstructed images from the Internet and the media.

The center of Jackie is not only its main character, Jacqueline Kennedy in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which is how the movie has been marketed, at least in Europe, but about Jackie as a constructed image. Who was really Jackie Kennedy? The First Lady touring the White House for the cameras? The widow wanting to march behind her husband’s casket, in front of millions of people? The woman who keeps repeating that the world has to see what has happened? Or just the person asking the journalist to write everything she tells him to, in order to preserve an image? I think it’s none of these images, because they are constructed images.

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Pablo Larrain, the Chilean director of the picture, has defended the notion that Jackie is somehow an attempt to unveil how Jackie Kennedy was, but I don’t think his words have to be taken literally. The movie itself is invented, it doesn’t show what really happened, what really went on in her mind, but it presents another alternative image, an alternative reality of “what could have been”, which goes exactly with the plot of the film itself. In fact, if the movie has to be marketed as showing a different perspective to the story it is not Jackie Kennedy’s but the storytellers themselves. We only know Jackie Kennedy from the images she constructed, from what can be read in the media or seen in archive footage.The movie even makes you question whether the image she is showing the journalist is real, not just in the way she talks to her but in what she is explaining (since it’s just her words), after all, why would she truly reveal her true identity to a man she has just met and who is no other than a member of the press? And yet Jackie tries to make you empathize with her in what could be called the “behind the scenes” of JFK’s assassination, and I think both Larrain and Portman are able to do so, despite yet again working with an image they have created of Jackie Kennedy. It is not a biopic in the classic sense of the word, it is a “what if” that truly reminds me of Phyllida Lloyd’s The Iron Lady, a movie that I believe was underrated. I don’t blame these directors for creating a parallel universe, because all biopics are parallel universes, I think what Larrain does, which is presenting a falsehood for what it is, a falsehood, better than those who claim their stories are real when they are not. I may be misinterpreting Jackie or probably just contradicting myself, but at least that’s the way that I see it.

This brings me to answer a comment I received a few hours ago on Twitter by a classmate, who criticized the film for “wanting to recreate the glory of a country, the US, that does not exist anymore” (and then went on a rant slamming the film for honoring a woman whose only contribution to society was being fashionable – something I also object). In my opinion, she missed the point (or I did, either way we agree to disagree). Yes, Jackie is the recreating of a glorious past, but that past was never real, it was always a construction, an image of nobility, and the movie insists on pointing it out. After all, “people like to believe in fairytales”. Everything in Jackie looks beautiful because that’s how Jackie Kennedy wanted her reality to be perceived.

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So, in case I had not made my point yet, I believe Jackie should have received more than just three Academy Award nominations (actress, costume design and soundtrack). In a society where images and created and recreated, Jackie is a movie the Academy should have acknowledged. I understand why it may have been snubbed in so many categories: it does not follow the classic linear construction, it is slow and it is based not on events but on the perception of these events. Fair enough, slow movies are not for everyone. But Larrain’s incredible directorial and visionary work should have been praised especially now that Best Picture category can have up to 10 competitors. Why not Jackie? Why not Larrain? I also think the movie was snubbed in the Best Production Design and Cinematography categories, especially since Carol, a movie visually similar was nominated for the latter.

Natalie Portman’s performance has been unanimously praised, and in fact she carries the whole weight of the movie on her shoulders. As you may well know by now, since I’ve said it so many times it has almost lost its significance, I am in love with La La Land and I’ve consequently rooted for Emma Stone throughout the awards season. I didn’t really know what to expect about Portman’s performance: was she just praised for playing a real character? I can now say it’s not the case. Natalie Portman is outstanding and had she not won the Academy Award six years ago she could be standing with that Oscar on Sunday. It wouldn’t be the case though because despite being brilliant her character does not show a range of emotions like Emma Stone does. But that doesn’t mean we don’t empathize with her (again contradicting some of my friend’s opinions who claims the movie is shallow and doesn’t let you get close to the character, which is in my opinion the whole point of the movie): Natalie Portman, carrying the whole weight of the film in her face, photographed exquisitely in extreme close ups, shows you, through her eyes, the sadness, fear and despair anyone, not just Jackie or an image of Jackie, would feel in that situation. The character may be false, yet the emotion is real and universal. 

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One thought on “Jackie: An astonishing film that challenges reality, fiction and history

  1. Thank you for your thorough and personal approach to the film. I haven’t seen it yet but your post increases even more my curiosity about Jackie. Cinema (and theatre and literature and art, in general) is about emotions: how actors/artists feel them and convey them to spectators. I’m willing to receive and be able to decode as many as possible in this occasion. I will sit and let them flow to me. I’ll let you know!

    Liked by 1 person

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