This film’s release on inauguration day will likely pain you and remind you of some of the greater days the Whitehouse has seen. Pablo Larraín’s depiction of the titular First Lady’s experience of dealing with her husband’s assassination, and its aftermath, is a poignant character examination, intimately crafting an image of the First Lady as a person, not simply an icon.
The majority of the film is told through flashbacks as Jackie Kennedy recounts her fears and thoughts to a reporter, a week after Kennedy’s assassination. Through broken, multiple flashbacks, the murder itself is shown, the camera always focusing on Jackie and not the dying president in her arms. It then goes on to reveal her worries as she is forced to leave the Whitehouse and come to terms with the fact she is no longer a First Lady and is left to care for her two children alone.
This is very much Jackie’s film, and an intimate portrait of her character. The camera constantly lingers close to Jackie’s face, encapsulating every little break in her front, slowly peeling back the walls of her public persona. The way the film flits between flashback and the interview allows personal interjections from the former First Lady, casting further understanding and insight over the memories. Similarly, the way the assassination, in particular, is depicted; through multiple flashbacks, each revealing something more, is especially interesting, and helps to show the mess of Jackie’s thoughts and emotions in experiencing such trauma.
This collage of events is overlaid with an incredibly powerful score that is both striking, if, on occasion, a little intrusive, and stirring. It really serves to externalise Jackie’s inner turmoil and feelings, used to great effect by punctuating certain emotional swells, for this is the film’s focus, not the action on screen but the emotions that lie beneath, something Larraín is keen to bring to the surface.
For a film so focused on an individual, it requires a powerhouse performance to really pull it all off, and Natalie Portman delivers the power in spades. She is completely transformed as Jackie; her speech and mannerisms are not her own. She expertly projects Jackie’s feelings out, yet still maintains a layer of composure over them, in moments where the icon is expected to play more the role of the First Lady than Jackie Kennedy. She is supported extremely well by a whole host of terrific actors, yet it is Portman’s captivating portrayal that maintains the majority of your attention. It is also a rather touching role to see John Hurt in, as his last cinema release before his sad passing.
The result of this collage of memories and outspoken emotion is an interesting, if slightly meandering, depiction of an iconic First Lady. It may not be entirely gripping for all throughout, but beautifully builds up a picture of a human woman, faced with the murder of her husband, yet must live out her grief on the world’s stage. All of which shows what a remarkable woman Jackie Kennedy really was.