Cinematic Releases: Something to Call Her Own: Jackie (2016)

Too often women are not defined by their sense of self, but by the roles they inhabit. They don't have a name anymore--they are just a wife, a mother, or a grandmother. The woman becomes assimilated into the character of the husband and she ultimately loses her identity. Now imagine if you are the wife of the President of the United States--the leader of the free world. What is your role then? 

Jackie is a biopic of Jackie Kennedy (played by Natalie Portman), but in a more personal sense. It follows the period of her life from right after John F. Kennedy's (Caspar Phillipson) assassination to his lavish funeral, a span of four days. Director Pablo Larraín chose an interesting approach to the material with the narrative being focused almost exclusively on Jackie's point of view. What we find is a woman who has had the rug pulled out from beneath her, a woman who has been shattered into a thousand pieces and with no time to put herself back together. She sits sobbing, covered in the blood and brain matter of her husband while aides buzz nervously around her, offering no solace or peace. There is no respite as she is whisked from place to place, always in the public eye and having to put on a brave face for America.

Natalie Portman disappears into her role and she emanates both grace and devastation in equal amounts. Jackie becomes like a wraith haunting the giant opulent rooms of the White House, watching as they move her things, her very life, out the way to make room for the new president and his family. This film has a decidedly European feel to it and is a strange mix of detached and beautiful camera work with incredibly intimate emotions on display. The color work is gorgeous and slightly desaturated accompanied by sweeping wide shots and exquisite shot framing. Larraín also seamlessly mixed in real historical footage into the film though in a tasteful and subdued fashion.

Equally as sumptuous is Mica Levi's (Under the Skin) fantastic score, a heavy string-based orchestral theme that permeates nearly the entire film. It feels as though Jackie is wearing a shroud made of trembling violins and discordant piano chords as the film marches grimly along on a prolonged funeral dirge. When she is unable to speak the music does so for her, swelling and undulating providing an uneasy undercurrent. It almost teeters on too much, but I always appreciate when music is given just as much importance as the visuals to convey the mood of a film.

This film paints a complex picture of a woman who lost her tether to the world and gained her power back by creating a legend. Though she was at times unsure and fragile (as we are all sometimes) she was also equally tenacious and brave. She looked beyond herself and gave America something to cling to in a world gone mad. And after everything was said and done, she herself made a lasting legacy. Not as the wife of an American President, but as herself: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

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-Michelle Kisner