The highly anticipated film Jackie, about former first lady Jackie Kennedy, did not disappoint. Natalie Portman was the star everyone said she was, and the cinematography was captivating.
But it’s not the film many were expecting.
While centered on the events just after the assassination of her husband, Jackie is truly a 99-minute contemplation on image. It’s about how Jackie viewed things, how everyone else viewed Jackie, and, of course, how the world would view her husband’s legacy.
We all know her for her style and poise; but what do we know of Jackie, the woman? One thing is for sure—as a style icon, she is more than her clothes; she is a powerful example of how style can serve the woman, not the other way around.
The film shows just how carefully Jackie crafted the Kennedy image. She was meticulous, understanding the power her image had over what America thought of her, and her family; she seemed to even think it as her duty to the American people. While the rest of us may not have a nation looking to us for hope and enchantment, Jackie reminds us all of the power of our image to conceal—or to reveal.
For the Record
The film paints Jackie as a woman obsessed with perceptions. A pivotal scene in the movie comes when Jackie is deplaning after returning from Dallas following J.F.K.'s assassination. Her aides tell her she should exit through the rear of the plane so as not to be seen. She immediately disagrees, insisting that the record must show what happened. Knowing that she would be photographed, and that the blood would be a testament to the horror of what had happened, she prevailed—blood-stained pink Chanel suit and all.
It's not the last time that Kennedy is shown carefully crafting her image. Another central scene of the movie is her LIFE Magazine interview with Theodore H. White, which she called for very soon after the tragedy—with the caveat that she be able to approve all his notes from the interview. In a rare comedic moment, Jackie, lit cigarette in hand, says to White, "I don't smoke." And as far as most people knew at the time, she didn't. It turns out that the first lady did indeed smoke—many say heavily—during her whole adult life. But as Jackie tells a confidant about the interview later in the film, it will be printed worldwide, and it's the story people will know—regardless of what's true.
For Jackie, the image of Camelot becomes a representation of hope for herself and the American people to persevere and carry on despite tragedy. White insinuates that Jackie has created this image of herself for the press but she corrects him—she did it for the American people. She was a true ode to the notion of "putting on a brave face"—an act we've all done a time or two for the sake of appearances and comfort.
Symbols of Ourselves
For all the careful portrayal of Jackie's desired image, the film shines in its stripped down moments, showing just how starkly different her outward image was to her inner self. At several points in the film, Jackie is looking at herself in a mirror. Wiping blood off her face in the immediate aftermath; later, catching a glimpse of herself, haggard from stress and sadness. The raw and emotionally exposed version, certainly a far cry from the perfectly composed image documented throughout her lifetime, makes me wonder if the perfect image of Camelot wasn't just for the people, as she insisted—but perhaps even more for herself.
The film recreates Jackie’s famous White House tour, which aired on all the major news channels in 1962. The interview was America's glimpse into the life of their beloved and glamorous first lady. It emphasized how much she valued the artifacts she had preserved in the White House because she felt more connected with the people who lived there.
Jackie’s desire to leave her own mark in the White House becomes obvious as she repeatedly reminisces on how her husband thought her additions to their D.C. home were superfluous; the pain of watching the new first lady, Mrs. Johnson, make design plans is visible. In her interview with White, she explains that while people die, artifacts that represent people last forever. She believed that the ideas of people are remembered through physical things, living far beyond any human life, thus creating a legacy.
It's clear to say that Jackie has a legacy. For Camelot, yes, but even more so for her style—her image, if you will. The film poignantly ends with Jackie driving through the streets and watching the department stores put up mannequins that look exactly like her. She realizes that she's made her mark.
At the conclusion of her interview with White, he earnestly comforts Jackie by foretelling her legacy to come—that even decades later, the American people will remember her.
Indeed they do.
Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures