In JACKIE, Natalie Portman’s Jackie Kennedy consciously controls history’s memory of JFK’s assassination and presidency through her calculated interview with a reporter played by Billy Crudup. The movie also stars Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig and John Hurt.
There’s a line in JACKIE that stuck with me. It’s when Jackie says “for royalty you need tradition and for tradition you need time”. It perfectly encapsulated the movie and Jackie Kennedy’s ultimate goals for her family. In the midst of the horror of JFK’s assassination and Jackie Kennedy’s own combination of sadness and guilt, she wants her husband—and by extension herself—not to fade into oblivion.
The movie balances showing both sides of the formidable Jackie Kennedy, who is seemingly in control, with the inner turmoil she faces as she struggles to keep herself afloat. The cinematography reflects that struggle through the use of a shaky, hand-held camera during specific scenes. It also felt like Jackie was an outside observer of her own life; she was present physically but still apart.
The use of light also reflects Jackie’s inner turmoil. When she greets the unnamed reporter at her home, she opens her door and sees bright light. In fact, the light is so blown out that it offers a sense of heightened realism, as though Jackie’s looking into the light but cannot get there yet herself. I also interpret it as an unforgiving light, representing how she feels about herself at the time. These interpretations are reinforced during the movie multiple times. For instance, during a flashback when someone tells Jackie that she has her whole life still ahead, she remarks that it’s a cruel comment. As bright as her life might seem having been First Lady or looking back knowing about her subsequent marriage to Aristotle Onassis, at this point she is a young mother who has lost two children, she’s lost a husband, she has no home of her own and fears she will have to start selling off furniture just to feed her children. Her desire to build a legacy for JFK is means for securing a future for herself as well, an inclination that is hard for her to even admit.
Jackie’s internal struggles are also literally reflected back to her during specific scenes with mirrors, which represent multiple facets of a person and personality in traditional film analysis. For more about these scenes and other themes in JACKIE, take a look below:
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