The delicate horror and divine strength of “Jackie”

Image for post
Image for post

It’s been called “hypnotic” by many. Jackie, the very real tale made tall before it was captured on camera, is, by no means, an “ordinary” biopic. It’s not even really a “biopic” even. The minutes, hours and days after President Kennedy’s assassination, from his newly widowed First Lady’s more emotional than literal perspective and interpretation, make up the better portion of the film — better meaning majority. The better — high quality — moments of the film are the ones that follow Jackie when she is all up in her own head, alone when surrounded by a crowd or stuck with her own silence in a bedroom. Perhaps some viewers are struck by the flower like delicacy of her movements than the almost speculative yet completely evocative inner chaos she experiences. They see her blood soaked dress and hear her softly pained voice, risking not being able to feel the full picture. Maybe this movie IS “hypnotic” for the many, playing a trick and playing with trickery.

I’d rather call it “horror”, but that’s me.

When asked by Darren Aronofsky to direct, Pablo Larrain responded that he hated biopics. “Why me?”, basically. This sleight of hand in choosing a filmmaker to work in a genre he or she would dislike, is kind of genius. Take the sequence where JFK is murdered in the motorcade, for example. Here, Jackie is experiencing flashbacks and flashforwards, feeling completely out of time and place, in a void of moments that repeat from multiple angles. When the shots ring out, we see only from her peripheral, showing concern for her husband before the cold shock and breathlessness kicked in. Not to suggest that “traditional” directors would go for something more exploitative or “entertaining”, but by anyone else, this bit would’ve been trimmed in favor of the more famous sections.

“Famous”. Just a few seconds in Dallas will make for the first thing thought of when hearing the name Kennedy. Always for worse, it became THE defining moment of many lives. To be in the shadow of a loaded rifle, for the rest of your days, has to take a toll on everything. We only get to see roughly a week of time following, but the impression this leaves is great, funneled through the quick funeral arrangements made by Jackie.

Natalie Portman has defeated her Black Swan performance with one of a different yet similar complexity. I use the word defeated as that film was her Oscar win AND where people felt she was upstaged by a supporting performance. Not to suggest any of this is a competition or should be leveled as gossip, but it is my feeling that, what she tried in Swan, she fully articulated in Jackie. Much like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, Swan was, for Portman, fairly autobiographical, in how a young woman in a demanding field felt and was treated as a developmentally stunted adult, slowly losing her mind under such conditions. Jackie completes this, as she (both Portman and the character/myth of Jackie) shows her thoughtful grace by way of beautiful, stoic and amazingly realized expressions of anticipation.

Portman’s Jackie never hesitates to anticipate, understand and process the looks, the feelings and the behavior of those around her. At once strikingly dramatic and devastatingly terrifying, Portman plays the former FLOTUS as someone so painfully detail oriented and structured around routine. It’s a more subtle obsessive compulsion, and maybe not a disorder for her at that time of her life, but a much needed crutch. OCD goes beyond hand washing or repeating phrases, folks. When she reboards Air Force One, cleaning her husband’s blood off of her face, she stares at her reflection in a makeup mirror, possibly trying to decipher what she herself is thinking and feeling, contemplating how best to respond. It gave me such pause, as this is a woman who fears the one person we cannot get away from: ourselves. As someone diagnosed with OCD, I felt profound humanity and memories of true horror from her, in panic attack like waves.

“Hypnotic” indeed, horrific absolutely, strong all the way. Even in its few and far between superficial moments, or the camp attitude exuded throughout, Jackie maintains a depth and divinity worthy of a Terrence Malick movie. Beyond the tricks of juxtaposition and monkey see / monkey do, audiences — even mainstream — will be able to pick up on the moods passed on to be felt. Moods that can be truer than anything shown in a more linear or literal way. Some would call that “pretentious”.

I’d call it “brilliant”, but that’s me.

5 / 5

Originally published at on December 5, 2016.

Written by

Independent film critic. Progressive po’ boy, moviegoing romantic. SEFCA member, 🍅 - approved. Newsletter at

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store