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Film Review: “Jackie” Reveals The Character Behind The Image

Oscar buzz has been surrounding Jackie because it is one of the few films that has brought heart and reality to a historical blemish in American History: JFK’s assassination. One of the most tumultuous episodes in U.S. narrative is spoken of like an “out of body” experience, where its very real players,  Jackie Bouvier Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, are seen as historical figures of poise and perseverance rather than a wife and brother wondering how their, and Jack’s, appetites for power clouded their sense of reality. In Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, we see the closest depiction of Jacqueline Kennedy as a human being  while she struggles to match her queenly role in the country’s “Camelot” imagination with her pain as a widow.

For my fellow historians, the JFK assassination is a mind-boggling tragedy that i0s shrouded with questions and images that do not seem real and to Pablo Larrain, one of those images is Jackie, played radiantly by Natalie Portman. The already Oscar-winner is bound to get another nod, maybe even a win, for this role. Is she excellent? YES! Yet, it is the story itself that elevates her already “acting chops”. Again, rare in history do people see Jackie O as a person and not an object. Even in her life she was just JFK’s charming wife. Yet, Larrain intriguingly portrays her as a strong, defiant woman with her own, at times, questionable attraction to power. Jackie might be the first film ever to show both the emotions and ego of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, which are two things that are not necessarily associated with her. While Peter Sarsgaard rivets by showing the stirring rage of the mild-mannered, meek Bobby Kennedy, whose guilt and visions of being a “dynamic duo” with his big brother confound him. John F Kennedy was their world and mutual source for their ambitions and, in an instant, they are left to mourn man and the dreams they had through him.

When you think of death and mourning, you think of the loss of that person. Yet, Jackie, not only adds nuance to the story of Jackie O but to that of mourning, itself. I have never seen a film fully flesh that losing someone is not just losing their presence but their power. When JFK dies, Jackie and Bobby, are left shattered by the future of opportunity they had with him. This is not say they did not love him. On the contrary, the film’s most powerful scenes are when Jackie is alone, crying and confused, over the mixed bag of feelings that she has to quietly carry. These are the scenes that will win Natalie Portman an Oscar nod. Audiences will feel emotionally torn as seeing her face so broken by a sadness that she can only express in lonely showers and rare moments where she is not around another person seeking power or position. Naturally, as this is a film based in Washington politics,  every character wants power, but their struggle is with empowerment. How do you rebuild yourself after realizing that winning is not a guarantee?
The hardest punch to any ego is when it rises so far and, abruptly, crashes so low. Camelot crashed when JFK died, but Jackie did everything to make sure its memory lived. She was smart, ambitious, and strong. She was a woman that loved a man who loved many women, but she also loved a man who loved power: something even she, behind her demure image, appreciated greatly. Thus, Pablo Larrain’s Jackie shows us that Jacqueline Kennedy was not a glamorous doll but a fiery spirit that shined like a star because she burned with ambition. Jackie comes out December 2.