“I’m not the First Lady anymore. I lost Jack somewhere. I was real, that was the performance.”
*Klaxon warning* ‘Jackie’ is not a typical biopic. I repeat, ‘Jackie’ is not a typical biopic. I say this, twice, as I had for anyone else to be stuck next to a fellow cinema goer who was as dissatisfied by the film as the woman I was sat next to yesterday. From her sighs and mid-film nap (she did appear to be in her seventies) it was clear the film wasn’t what she expected. I can only presume she had hoped it would be a typical biopic: with a chronological narrative, fully fleshed out characters, weeping and dialogue heavy dramatic stand-offs. ‘Jackie’ is not that movie. Instead it’s something more artistic and even slightly more abstract than that. It serves as a meditation of grief in a manner that would lend itself as a nice companion piece to ‘Manchester By The Sea’ (click here for my review).
Portman’s lead performance in this has similarities with Casey Affleck’s in ‘MBTS’. Both are frozen in grief, completely numbed by it. They may be walking and talking but something is totally destroyed inside. Director Pablo Larrain emphasises this idea by rarely focusing the camera on anything other than Portman’s face which serves a dual purpose. It leaves us unable to look away from her, unable to hide from her truly devastating loss, which in turn reinforces her ‘Let them see what they’ve done’ mindset. Society killed her husband whilst he was serving them – if she cannot escape that then neither can we. We scan her face to try to understand her grief, how she may be feeling, yet our search provides little clues. How could it do anything else? Loss is the most incomprehensible feeling of them all.
The effect is something which could alienate some viewers as it comes across as more artificial than natural. Surely this is the intent as Portman is playing a role, Jackie Kennedy, playing a role, The First Lady. It’s a performance within a performance. Her mannered behaviour in the interview with The Journalist (Crudup) may not just be a coping mechanism but the only way she knows how to behave. She’s been playing a role that the entire world has been watching for so long she cannot behave in any other way, Her frozen expression and stilted tone may not articulate grief in a manner we are use to but it doesn’t mean this way is less valid or true.
This ideology is furthered with the narrative style. The film may start with the arrival of The Journalist and his interviewing Jackie but the events then recounted are not told in chronological order; JFK’s death a week ago, moments of her grieving, moments of her life with her beloved husband and restaging of the 1962 documentary ‘A Tour Of The White House With Mrs John F. Kennedy’ are all interspersed. The result is something far more searing, compelling and intimate than expected.
This is not a typical biopic. Instead it’s an exposing psychological portrait of a clever image-maker constructing an image that will both expose and conceal her at her life’s darkest moment.
‘Jackie’ opened in UK cinemas on 20th Jan.
Year: 2017 Run time:100 minutes Dir: Pablo Larraín