One of the few movies of the “quality movie” season that I was really excited to see, this looked to be what it was: an examination of the reality behind well-known images, an exploration of shock and loss within a massively surreal environment, and an imagining of the reality behind a well-known American story. The trailer seduced me with its multiple pictures of Jackie in shock in one environment after another, and the final film didn’t betray me, didn’t try to add too much story or psychologizing, because that shock and bewilderment is what I wanted to see. By the way, I’m willing to bet you $10 that the Buffy episode The Body, and the way it showed our heroine just wandering around in shock, was a major influence for this film.
So that is one whole thread; Jackie in shock, wandering through these bizarrely ornate, formal environments, and often that is enough. Against it, there are great little details, like Jackie lying down on her side of the bed, leaving you to fill in: Jack will never be on the other side again. There’s a good bit when one of the women hovering around advises her to change out of her pink outfit with blood smeared on it. Jackie says “No, let them see what they’ve done.” But the film goes for a while with us only seeing a few minor blood stains on her chest; it’s a shock when we see that her skirt has been spattered with gory bloodstains the whole time. She’s in shock here, she’s in shock there, she’s just wandering around in shock… and for some reason, that alone really works, and is kind of enough to make an entire film out of.
But the other thing about the Jackie story is that there are several images that have become iconic, and the film also sets about to put context around them. Not so much in the vein of telling “the real story’ behind the images, but to comment on image-making and to make us examine what imaginings and impressions we bring to famous still images—the stories we create around them in our heads, without knowing the fuller story. I saw this with a friend who remembered the day JFK was killed, and the power of all those images and the incredible meaning they had. He was basically a basket case throughout the whole thing.
Portman is impeccable, you never feel like you are looking at an actress, or watching a performance. Looking at the actual photos afterward, I was struck with how much care was put into finding actors that look like the real people [the JFK is uncanny], which isn’t just fastidious casting here, it has a meaning [as do all the painstaking recreations of the clothes and environments] because the film is specifically about those pictures.
In short, see it, if any of that interests you. Or if you’re just into portraits of grief and mental anguish. This one is unlikely to leave your eye dry, although that seems far from the point [and the movie itself is remarkably low on sobbing and histrionics]. No, it’s just about that moment when everything in life is shattered and nothing makes the slightest bit of sense, and it won’t again for quite a while.