SPOILER WARNING: Jackie (Pablo Larraín, 2016)
Regardless of what is said and done, history will be written. Jackie Kennedy faces this harsh truth in Jackie (Pablo Larraín, 2016) and she meets it head on with as much grace and effectiveness as can be expected of someone in her unique position. In the days following the death of her husband at the hands of a sniper, Ms. Kennedy confronts everything from the oncoming presence of the new administration to her own insecurities and wishes for death. But time will not stop for her concerns, and so Jackie immediately, with the blood of her husband still on her coat, sets about securing John F. Kennedy’s place in history. For as she has seen and come to understand, if she does not define the legacy of her husband, everyone else will. What follows are a series of power plays and carefully thought out moves, all with the intended effect of elevating the deceased President to the position that she believes to be appropriate for someone whom was the President of the United States.
Framed by an interview between Jackie Kennedy and a journalist that is Theodore H. White in everything but name, the audience sees the full range of the film’s subject’s emotions and effectiveness. At one moment she is cold and uncaring for the truth that is being written by her interviewer, and at the next she is shown loving and crying for her children. As Jackie recognizes, the journalist represents nothing more than the latest force that will define her late husband, and it is one that she must curve if she is to maintain her delicate amount of control. These moves by her, especially in the case of her actions with the journalist, are not explicitly judged by the film in any significant way, but this serves the overall greater theme of actions being judged by history. While the audience may see Jackie’s actions of truth control as being anything from careless to unethical, what cannot be denied is her genuine concern for what is being said and what will be said about her late husband.
As Bobby Kennedy expresses late in the film, legacy is something that is far from assured for the Kennedys. Fearing that they have accomplished nothing, Bobby sees the march of history as one that will trample the Kennedys and leave them in the dust. Citing the Cuban Missile Crisis among other events, Bobby sees that control is so far out of their hands that they cannot even say if they will be judged as having caused the Crisis in the first place. But his sister-in-law is far ahead of him, and she has been for days. As she rides in the hearse with her husband’s casket in front of her, Jackie gauges which previously assassinated presidents are be best known by the general populace. Abraham Lincoln is deemed to be the most popular, as so John F. Kennedy’s funeral procession is made to replicate his. Much in the same way, Jackie keeps deems certain information non-publishable when it comes to her interview. Her own feelings about the moment of her husband’s death are among these, as well is the fact that she smokes. She does not want the sympathy of those around her, because sympathy may lead to other feelings that she does not desire.
Through all of these events, Jackie excels at portraying everything in as neutral light as possible. Anything less would betray the overall theme of interpretation that the film constantly conveys to the audience. No one in the film is portrayed as worse than the other. Jackie begins with Jackie Kennedy being interviewed in her home and not with the death of John F. Kennedy. Because of this, the film forgoes creating excess sympathy for its subject, though the film does not ever allow the audience to forget what has happened. But by keeping the death of the President as something that is unseen for much of the film, Jackie allows the actions of its characters to be experienced in almost a vacuum. Something terrible and earthshaking has happened, but this does not necessarily justify any of the actions that are taken in its aftermath. Even characters such as Max Valenti, and aid of Lyndon Johnson’s whom is extremely concerned for everyone’s safety in regards to the elaborate funeral procession that is being planned, cannot be interpreted as being difficult without merit. After all, Mr. Valenti’s concerns are justified, given that the President has just been assassinated and no one is certain as to why. The same can be said for everyone else in their respective ways, but it is especially true when it comes to the character of Jackie Kennedy.
History has indeed judged all of those involved with the death of the 35th President of the United States. Despite this, Jackie is able to portray everyone as neutral and justified in their respective actions and concerns. Everyone is aware of his or her potential place in history and they are all eager to do as much as they can to secure it themselves. Among everyone, from Bobby Kennedy to Lyndon Johnson, Jackie stands out from the crowd. Unique in her own way because of her position, she is successfully able to navigate all the public pitfalls while also wrestling with her own personal demons. Even as she can sense power slipping away from her, Jackie must remain calm and composed and still make the most of what power she has left. In this, she is successful, as she is able to carefully navigate the turbulent landscape that everyone has found himself or herself in by way of maintaining her dedications to what is important. By letting everyone else take bits and pieces of control from her, but not over anything that is truly important, Jackie is able to maintain the most control over what is important to her. In the end, it may appear that she has controlled everything absolutely from the start, but without those around her, Jackie would not be able to accomplish what she wishes.
In the end, John F. Kennedy is buried in Arlington with a funeral procession that harkens back to Lincoln’s and history is made. The inner workings of this are shown, but Jackie is more than a simple political procedural. By blending everything from Jackie Kennedy’s insecurities about her own relationship with her husband to her wishes from an end to her life, the film manages to capture the raw human emotion behind an event that is often defined by its effect on the world as a whole. Looking for reason in the world does not do much for Jackie as the events unfold around her, and in the end a sense of such is only found after almost everything has transpired. John Hurt’s priest offers his own suggestions as to the reasoning of the world and God, but in the end these are just suggestions and Jackie must sort through them herself and decide what she will do next. The world only makes sense if one chooses to make it so, and this is precisely what Jackie does as she forges the legacy of her late husband and also herself and her family. Legacy is not something that will wait for Jackie Kennedy as she makes sense of the world, and so she chooses to forge ahead and define the insane world that she has found herself in. Anything less, and control would be taken away from her, which is something Jackie cannot allow or even survive. By way of her perseverance, she is able to define not only her husband, but also herself as well.