I know that most of the movie critics loved the movie Jackie. I hated it.
First there is Natalie Portman’s impression of Jackie Kennedy. The first time I heard the real Jackie speak was in 1960. The iconic reporter and TV personality Edward R. Murrow interviewed Jack and Jackie at their home on the popular show Person to Person. When Jackie started to speak, I thought, she must must be kidding, nobody speaks like that. I would describe her manner of speaking as a breathy whisper of words spoken in a child-like manner. Really, her voice and the way she spoke are almost indescribable, at least for me.
I thought: Was this supposed to be sexy, seductive, classy or what? Was Jackie the embodiment of Scott Fitzgerald’s character Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby whose voice the narrator describes as “low and thrilling”? Was it “the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.” Did it “compel me forward breathlessly as I listened” because it was “glowing and singing”? Was it “full of money”? Maybe… In any case, Natalie Portman’s imitation of Jackie’s speech is pretty good in that it is almost as annoying as the real Jackie’s.
The actor who portrays JFK does resemble him, except that he is at least a head shorter. In one scene, he is shown next to Peter Skarsgaard, who plays Robert Kennedy. Skarsgaard towers over him; in reality Bobby was shorter than his brother. But because the movie concentrates on Jackie’s life in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s assassination, the JFK actor has a very small speaking part, and I don’t think he attempted to do JFK’s distinctive voice and speech. Peter Skarsgaard looks nothing like the real Bobby Kennedy and also doesn’t imitate his voice and speech. Thus Portman is the only one who impersonates the person she’s playing. That in itself makes Jackie hard to believe.
Portman speaks in a whisper, and for some reason, so does almost everyone else. Loud, portentous music is played during much of the dialogue. My hearing isn’t good, but I cannot believe that anyone could understand very much of the dialogue in Jackie.
The movie depicts Jackie Kennedy’s effort to promote what she wanted her husband’s legacy to be. Therefore, the movie doesn’t acknowledge any of the then top secret details we now know about Kennedy’s life: his many serious illnesses, his extremely dangerous and irresponsible act of having sex multiple times in the White House with Mafia boss Sam Giancana’s mistress, his affair with the mentally unstable Marilyn Monroe as well as his liaisons with many other women from White House secretaries to former debutante friends of his wife.
Also now known is that Ted Sorenson wrote Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage. We also know that Kennedy employed mafia members to assassinate Fidel Castro; all that and more. In one scene, the reporter meant to represent Theodore White, who was the first reporter to interview Jackie after the assassination, urges her to promote Kennedy as the “great man” White believed him to be.
So the movie’s purpose is to show how Jackie and Theodore White successfully placed Jack Kennedy in the pantheon of the great historical figures, rather than to show the real Kennedy, an extremely attractive and charming man, who in addition to being seriously ill and an irresponsible philanderer, made dumb decisions that brought us to the brink of nuclear war. Not mentioned is how Kennedy’s indecisiveness made a fiasco of the Bay of Pigs invasion, which led to his fatuous and unsuccessful attempt to charm Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, which, as I said before, brought us frighteningly close to nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis. That series of unfortunate events produced our disastrous Vietnam involvement. The war created the 1960’s culture of protests, young authoritarians, drugs, the black power movement, and race riots. As Zorba the Greek said, “the whole catastrophe.”
Kennedy’s decisions and murder also gave birth to the nutty conspiracy theory obsession we now live with as well as the trivialization and destruction of most of our education system–from the elementary schools to the universities.
The movie does not debunk the myth of “Camelot,” the fib made up by Jackie that the first couple used to play the music from the Broadway show Camelot each evening before bed, the purpose of which was to equate the few Kennedy years with some golden era of heroism, idealism, and cultural superiority.
And in addition to throwing a bouquet to Jack Kennedy, Jackie is boring and repetitious.
It also engages in voyeuristic sensationalism by re-enacting Kennedy’s murder, blood and brain tissue prominently included. It’s not as if we haven’t seen the real thing many times before.
Jackie once again tells us all the things about JFK that we already knew while ignoring all the sordid and unpleasant things we now know as well. The only thing that might surprise some viewers is that Jackie smoked when she was out of the public eye. Not very interesting.
If you want a true portrait of Kennedy, read the entertaining but sobering book President Kennedy by former New York Times reporter and author, Richard Reeves. Although I cannot say which party he supports, I can say from hearing him speak in person and from reading some of his works, that Reeves is definitely a liberal. Reportedly, Jackie Kennedy many years after the assassination gave her daughter Caroline, by then a grown woman, a copy of Reeves’s book and said, “If you want to know what your father was really like, read this book.” I can only speculate about the reason Jackie did this (if she really did it), but I believe she felt guilty and embarrassed about the monster she and the then deceased Teddy White had created and wanted to correct the historical record herself in a way she felt comfortable with – through her daughter, and perhaps after her death. In any case, we haven’t heard a word from Caroline.
So the Kennedy myth lives on; it is indestructible.