Set in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of JFK, “Jackie,” is not your usual biopic. The film flits from point to point with no apparent logic but isn’t that what grief is like? That’s what we see here, a woman who has witnessed the brutal murder of her husband, only to have to shoulder, not only her own grief, but that of an entire nation.
I went into the film trying to recall what I know of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as a person. All I could really say is that she is, perhaps, the most beloved of all the First Ladies. She married into the Kennedy clan, the closest we get to royalty in America, and became the face of one of the most tragic moments of modern American history. I knew she was considered a fashion icon in her day, that she remarried, and died in 1994. “Jackie” proves that there was so much more to Jacqueline Kennedy than most people realize.
Natalie Portman portrays the former First Lady with emotion and restraint. Her performance of Jackie could net her a third Oscar nomination. Interviewed just a week after the assassination, the sit-down between Jackie and Life journalist, Theodore White (Billy Crudup), becomes a frame for the film, sharing an intimate picture of a larger-than-life woman, one who wanted to make sure her husband became a legacy. She it was who first suggested the Camelot metaphor after telling White that she and Jack often listened to the soundtrack of the Broadway show together.
The other frame for the movie is the televised tour of the White House Jackie gave in 1962. Here we discover that Jackie, in her own way, was a bit of a history buff. Probably a better way to say it was that she desired to preserve history through obtaining artifacts lost to the White House over the years and restoring them to the historical residence. She does the same thing after the assassination: she makes sure that history will remember her husband by fashioning his funeral after Abraham Lincoln’s. All the iconic images we know from history make an appearance on screen but the filmmakers have shown us the heartbreak and strength of the woman behind the veil.
Next to Jackie during the whole ordeal is Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard). They make quite the pair. Bobby seems stuck on the fact that he and JFK (Caspar Phillipson) left things unfinished, having so much more to do. Jackie stands up to him when he wants to shield Caroline and John Jr. from the multitudes and yet they stand by each other as they struggle with the immediate decisions to be made and how to go forward from their devastating loss.
Watching “Jackie” kept reminding me that what binds people together is our common humanity. Yes, popular culture dubs some people ‘icons’ because of their fame or fortune or influence but celebrity status does not mean that they are less human than we are. When tragic things happen, they grieve as we do and need help just as we do. Fame, fortune, or status does not define them or us. What truly defines us is that we are human, children of God, loved by God. That is what binds us.