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Movie Review

Before Princess Diana, there was Jacqueline Kennedy.

She swept into Washington on clouds of pearls and silk, bringing unparalleled style and grace to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. With her young, handsome husband by her side, and her two cute-as-a-button kids in tow, Jackie helped forge a beautiful myth that endured far longer than JFK's checkered, tragically abbreviated administration—a legend of a picture-perfect White House that, in time, would transcend politics itself.

Even when she left the White House, the spotlight followed. She married again and became Jackie O. She became constant quarry for the paparazzi for the rest of her life, each grainy image plastered in the tabloids for a public eager for more. (One such shot was selected as one of Time's 100 most influential photos in history.)

But for all her decades in the public eye, the world best remembers Jackie for the one week she was never out of it—that one terrible week in November.

John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. He fell into Jackie's lap, his blood covering her pink Chanel suit. The president's funeral procession wound from the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle to Arlington National Cemetery on Nov. 25, Jackie leading a black-clad procession on foot. She grieved in front of millions, channeling the country's own grief and giving it voice, imbuing it with unexpected, healing grace.

Meanwhile, in Washington's offices, corridors and bedrooms, Jackie fought to preserve her husband's legacy—to posthumously raise John F. Kennedy from man to myth, to turn him in public perception from a middling president to the caretaker of what Jackie would eventually call Camelot.

"We must get [the funeral] right, Bill," she tells Bill Walton, one of the couple's closest D.C. confidants, in the movie Jackie. "Must get this right. It has to be beautiful. … We have to march with Jack. Everyone."

Positive Elements

It's hard to quantify the cultural impact Jackie Kennedy had following her husband's assassination. But the movie does its best to help us feel Jackie's healing role in this American tragedy. "You were a mother to all of us," one journalist tells her. "The entire country watched the funeral from beginning to end. Decades from now, people will remember your dignity and honesty." And so we do.

The film depicts Jackie as both dignified and as painfully honest at times. She relentlessly defends Jack as the "great man" that she believes him to have been. That's not to say he didn't have his faults: Jackie knew them well, as we'll see. But she believes he was a force for good in the country; given more time, she's convinced he could've done genuinely great things.

Jackie chose to focus on the best elements of her husband's character—perhaps naively, it's true. But in a way, isn't that we all hope that our own spouses would do for us? To believe the best of us, even when we don't always live up to it? "We all live on far after our deaths," Jackie says. "Presidents will come and go, and everyone will look up to Jack. For guidance. For inspiration."

Spiritual Content

Jackie Kennedy, like her husband, is Catholic. But when a reporter asks her if her faith is helping her during her time of grief, she snaps at him. "I prefer to discuss my faith with a priest," she says, adding dryly, "You're not a man of the cloth, are you?"

But as the movie goes on, it's clear that she is talking with a priest.

"I think God is cruel," Jackie tells him.

"And now you're getting into trouble," the priest tells her. "God is love. And love is everywhere."

"Was God in the bullet that killed Jack?"

"Absolutely."

"And is He in me, now?"

"Of course He is."

"Well, that's a funny game He plays," Jackie fumes, "Hiding all the time."

"The fact that we don't always understand Him isn't funny at all," the priest tells her.

It's one of several such exchanges Jackie and the priest have, each one more probing than the conversation before. In the end, the priest suggests God has chosen Jackie in this time of tragedy so that "the works of God can be revealed in you." Slowly, he helps bring Jackie to a place of acceptance, if not peace. And, indeed, she tries to bring out the best she can out of an unquestionably horrific situation. The priest acknowledges to her some his own questions about the Almighty, the doubts that lurk in the soul. He talks about how, when faced with an inscrutable universe, we can respond with despair or ignorance or, ideally, the will to face another day. And another. We are given just enough understanding to keep going. "God in His infinite wisdom has made sure that it is just enough for us."

Jackie, when breaking the news of JFK's death to their children, tells them that "Daddy had to see your baby brother, Patrick [who died shortly after birth earlier that year], in heaven." We see a priest conducting Kennedy's funeral Mass. Later, Jackie and a priest ceremonially inter Patrick's body and that of a stillborn daughter by Kennedy's grave.

Jackie also makes a biblical reference to JFK's alleged infidelities: "Sometimes he'd walk into the desert so he could be tempted by the devil," she says. "But he would always come back to us, his beloved family."

Sexual Content

The film tells us Jackie knew of Kennedy's extramarital philandering. "Jack and I hardly ever spent the night together," she tells the priest. "I seem to remember there being more to our vows." But, she rationalizes, "Women have endured far worse for far less."

In the same conversation, Jackie asks the priest how people look at her now. He says they likely look at her with "sadness. Compassion. Desire, maybe," adding that she is still, after all, a young woman. Elsewhere, we see her in a black camisole, and in the shower. (Nothing critical is shown.)

Violent Content

"I told everyone I can't remember," Jackie confesses to her priest about that terrible day in Dallas. "It's not true. I remember everything." And with that confession, we see the assassination from Jackie's point of view, including the horrific moment part of Kennedy's skull is ripped open by an assassin's bullet.

The flashback, which is realistically brutal, is shown just once. But Jackie recounts the moment elsewhere. "I know what you want," she tells a journalist. "You want me to describe the sound the bullet made when it collided with my husband's skull." She talks about how she tried to staunch the blood, how Kennedy's "blood and brains [were] in my lap," and how she tries "to keep the top of his head down … to keep it all in." Aboard Air Force One, Jackie wipes the blood off her face as she wails in grief. Blood and gore are splattered on her dress, which she refuses to remove in the immediate aftermath. "Let them see what they've done," she says.

In the shower, Jackie washes blood from her hair, the stained water trickling down her bare back. "So many pieces," she later tells Bobby Kennedy, Jack's brother, presumably referring to the President's skull.

Kennedy's friends and associates watch as Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who killed JFK, is assassinated himself. The assassinations of previous presidents—James Garfield, William McKinley and especially Abraham Lincoln—are discussed. Jackie tries to walk into a room where an autopsy is being conducted, but she's turned away before we, the viewers, see anything. Governmental officials fret about further assassination attempts during the President's funeral procession. It will be impossible to guarantee everyone's safety, they say.

[Spoiler Warning] To a priest, Jackie confesses that the elaborate procession was not done for Kennedy's legacy, but for her own secret longing to be assassinated herself. "That night, and every night, I prayed to God, 'Oh, God, let me be with my husband,'" she tells the priest.

Crude or Profane Language

We hear two f-words and two uses of "g--d--n." There's also one additional use of the word "d--n."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Jackie smokes, even as she tells a reporter that she doesn't. (It's her way of instructing him not to report her habit.) She's frequently shown with a cigarette in her mouth, as are other members of Kennedy's inner circle.

Jackie also seems to have a great many pills at her disposal. She takes one or two on occasion, seemingly to help her sleep. At one juncture, she pours out several vials of pills on a table, perhaps contemplating taking them all.

People drink wine. There's also a verbal reference to champagne.

Other Negative Elements

None.

Conclusion

Jackie wanders through the White House's private quarters—places where she and her late husband would talk and play with their children—as the title song from the iconic Broadway musical Camelot plays in the background. The lyrics speak of an idyllic escape, more myth than reality, where "the climate must be perfect all the year."

But Camelot, of course, was not to last. And in a wistful refrain, we hear the ache of what once was … or what never was but should've been:

*Don't let it be forgot That once there was a spot For one brief shining moment That was known as Camelot * As her interview comes to a close with her journalist confessor, Jackie connects the JFK administration with Camelot for the first time.

"There won't be another Camelot," she says. "Not another Camelot."

Jackie is, yes, an intimate portrayal of Jackie Kennedy, one that follows her through an unimaginable week of pain. But it's also about a master storyteller, a grieving woman who deftly reshapes the narrative she's been given and crafts it into legend—a legend so powerful that even now, more than 50 years later, we still talk of Kennedy's Camelot.

"People have to believe in fairy tales," Jackie says. "I believe that the characters we read on the page are more real than the people who stand beside us."

Jackie's characters are on the screen, not on the page. And yet the same holds true. Jackie, as all biopics do, dances an intricate waltz with fact and fiction. It offers us a portrait of Jackie Kennedy filled with her own flaws—her sometimes selfish behavior, her snippy responses, her desire to control and redeem the Kennedy narrative—and yet manages to make her feel all the more real and, strangely, all the more admirable.

Jackie's R rating is earned for a pair of f-words and a few seconds of unremitting horror. It's a difficult movie in spots. And certainly historians, as well as fans and critics of Kennedy, might choose to pick at some of the details here.

But on balance, Jackie is a moving, surprisingly spiritual portrait of a woman grieving in the public eye and, in so doing, shaping a nation's story. And it reminds us all of just how important our stories are.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy; Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy; Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman; Billy Crudup as The Journalist; John Hurt as The Priest; Richard E. Grant as Bill Walton; Caspar Phillipson as John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Director

Pablo Larraín ( )

Distributor

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

December 2, 2016

On Video

March 7, 2017

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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