The private pain of a President’s death

Review: Jackie

(MA15+) Natalie Portman, Peter Saarsgard, John Hurt

A multitude of films and books have explored the events surrounding the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, but none have focused upon the woman at the centre of this tragedy. Jackie comes from the notes of journalist Theodore H. White (played by Billy Crudup) and the LIFE magazine article he wrote about the iconic First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman, delivering an amazing performance). Interspersed between Kennedy and White’s recorded conversation are flashbacks to the events in Dallas, Texas — and the immediate aftermath, including President Kennedy’s funeral. This looking-glass journey provides exceptional detail of Jackie’s tragic experiences and shows how people treated her during one of the most significant events in recent world history.

For those who have studied the events surrounding President Kennedy’s death, many of the details in Jackie will be familiar, but from a different angle. The effect is a dark and haunting journey alongside one of the most recognisable, but reclusive women in the public arena. Natalie Portman (Black Swan) pours herself into the character and shows a very human side to the misunderstood political icon. With the disturbing precision of Black Swan and V for Vendetta, she proves her exceptional ability to delve into the psychological and physical aspects of the role. Portman also shows her ability to be captivating in every scene, regardless of what is being portrayed historically. This award-winning actress is able to show the pain and anguish of a woman and wife caught in an extraordinary situation. Even when she is smiling, Portman can convey the melancholic demeanour and existence of this woman who came to symbolise the end of an era. She is back to her best work and this will go down as one of the best performances of the year.

The subject matter that surrounds her performance, albeit recognisable to most, remains dark and depressing. The events around the assassination still manage to draw out emotions of anger, sorrow and intrigue, especially after seeing the mistreatment of the First Lady during this devastating portion of her life. Snapshots of the Kennedy’s marriage also arise, revealing that they were surprisingly detached from one another. This is divergent from how they were portrayed in the media as a loving couple, and the coldness of their relationship was successfully covered by a sparkling veneer that still remains in many people’s eyes today.

Nothing about Noah Oppenheim’s (Allegiant) script allows any light to enter into this sombre tale. It merely delivers the audience a shadowy glimpse into history that leaves little to celebrate in Jackie other than Natalie Portman’s performance.

What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

John 9:2-5 As he passed by, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man who sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 

Even though this passage is recited in Jackie — and is misapplied — it is an exceptional passage to open the discussion on suffering. It is an example of God’s mysterious ways and how some of life’s difficulties can be a means of showing mercy and grace in people’s lives. But this is just one portion of the Bible that opens the door to such an important conversation.

Passages on suffering: Romans 5:3-5, 1 Peter 5:10, Revelation 21:4

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger




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