‘Jackie’ 2016

Review: ‘Jackie’ 2016

A Masterclass in the creation of an Icon

‘Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot’. The unconventional, poetic and expressionistic film ‘Jackie’ refers more than once to the lyric sang Richard Burton in the Broadway musical, one of JFK’s favourites, to describe glamorous, the shining moment that was the Kennedy presidency. Camelot, the word that evokes a world of mythological chivalry and beauty. A journalist in the film refers to the ‘spectacle’ of that time and in one of the most fascinating scenes Bobby Kennedy wonders if they will merely be remembered as the ‘beautiful people’. I cannot think of a Presidency in the US or any other Western democracy that comes close to matching the iconic glamour and mythology of the Kennedy administration and the poise and grace of its First Lady Jackie. As the Obamas leave office, Barrack and Michelle have left us whispers and echoes of that glittering period. Many historians point to the assassination and funeral of JFK, the two historical moments depicted in the film, as an epochal turning point, ushering in a new period of social and moral upheaval that ended the cohesiveness and stability of the immediate postwar period.

This nature of the ‘icon’ and ‘myth’ versus the reality becomes the central theme of the film as Jackie, at face value, tries to maintain Jack’s legacy by orchestrating a funeral that matches Lincoln’s but as the film reveals is also crafting her own legacy. Jackie an intensely private woman is shown both in her public iconic persona in the first televised tour of the White House in 1961 and then in her moments of shock and despair after the assassination. Natalie Portman, in one of the best performances of the year, expertly navigates the vast gulf between what the public saw and who she really was. The film is structured around an interview with a journalist in the time after the funeral in which she crafts her legacy. There are moments where she explains the importance of her role in preserving the art and artefacts of the White House poetically describing how artefacts and art survive long after our deaths and create our legacy.

The film contrasts her adversarial sparing with the journalist in search of a ‘story’, moulding and projecting her iconic image, with her intensely private and revealing conversation with a Catholic priest in which she reveals her doubt, frailty and deep sadness. To the journalist she states things like ‘I don’t smoke’ while holding a cigarette and ‘don’t for one minute think I’ll let you publish that’. This contrasts to the words she says to the priest ‘people like to believe in fairytales’ and ‘sometimes the men we read about on the page are more real than the ones standing next to you’. Jack was flawed and so was Jackie and yet the film shows a heartbroken woman who knew how to maintain and insure that the legacy they had created together would persevere. Do we really want the truth? There is so much that is unknown about the assassination, about Jack and especially the private Jackie. We say we want truth but truly crave the myth. Ultimately the mask becomes more real than what is beneath. There is not better suited medium to capture the nature of the ‘icon’ than film a medium that is a machine for creating myth, stars and dreams. The very film Jackie itself is at a meta level doing what Jackie in the film does. It reveals aspects of the truth ultimately creating and maintaining the beautiful myth.


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