Jackie Kennedy was many things - a wife, a mother, a fashion icon, the First Lady of the United States - and adored by the masses for her grace, her dignity and even the air of mystery that she had due to her reticence with the press despite her popularity with the public during John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign.
With this film, director Pablo Larrain attempts to peel away the veneer of Jackie's poise and reserve, and give a glimpse of the raw emotions that lay underneath; every roughened edge of a woman who cradled her dying husband in her arms and watched his lifeblood, along with their legacy, slowly drain away.
It is the story of a woman who, in her quest to preserve that legacy, shrewdly made it into a myth - the glorious grandeur of the Kennedy White House.
The film flips between time periods like a child playing with a switch. The scenes comprise of short, staccato shots that do not always flow smoothly. The entire movie has a sharp, heightened sense to it, but is at some points a soothing blur, though that is more like the shock of numbness that is followed and preceded by unbearable pain. And yet, the style of shooting somehow brings the whole film together, like discordant notes arranged into a symphony.
The movie plays out as an interview of Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) by an unnamed journalist (Billy Crudup), and interwoven with flashbacks, scenes from a documentary about the restoration of the White House with Jackie as its star, and moments of heart-rending honesty between her and a priest (John Hurt), creates a portrait of Jackie - primarily depicting the psychological state of the First Lady during the dark days following her husband's assassination.
The night of the president's murder is harrowing and hard to watch. As Jackie peels away her bloodstained garments one by one, from coat to stockings, she seems to shed the masks she wears when faced with the cameras, the layers of composure. When she stands under the shower, bare-skinned with her hair plastered to her skull, there is an almost-poetic symbolism to it - her coiffed hair is wet, her poise gone; in this moment Jackie is at her most vulnerable, and it hurts you to see it.
In numerous stills, we watch Jackie aimlessly wandering the echoingly silent hallways of the White House. The background score has sudden jarring notes that are tailor-made for a horror movie - yet, they are aptly employed here. Jackie seems as lost and lonely as a ghost, haunting the place that was once her home but which has now alienated her.
But when she is eventually interviewed to present the tragedy from her point of view, she skips the real, visceral feelings and any candour, and chooses to create a myth.
Unfortunately, this is not a movie that can make much of an impact on those who lack knowledge of Jackie's backstory and what she meant for the people of the USA. This is where it falls woefully short - it is far too intimate, too in-the-moment for uninformed viewers to appreciate and empathise with the leading lady's situation, and understand the significance of such a biopic.
Natalie Portman is, without a doubt, the crowning gem of this production. In her look, accent and manner of speaking, she has truly captured the essence of the woman Kennedy was. With the reporter, she is commanding, and yet there are moments of heart-wrenching honesty that break through her self-possession. With the priest, she is tortured by her loss of faith in God. And in the scenes of her documentary, she is sweet and welcoming. Portman embodies Jackie's multifaceted persona to give an Oscar-worthy performance.
John Hurt also delivers admirably as the wise priest who acts as Jackie's confidante and counsellor. The other members of the cast, however, fail to live up to this standard. Aside from Caspar Phillipson, who is the spitting image of the late John Kennedy, the cast members neither resemble the historic icons they play nor make a particular impression on the viewer.
During her restoration of the White House, Jackie preserves the legacies of John F Kennedy's predecessors by making them into something more than mere mortals who had lived and dreamed and died, human and fallible. Their legacies become inspirations, legends - reminders of the greatness that once was.
And by painting their years of service with a sheen of romanticism, Jackie Kennedy ensures that the world remembers her husband's tenure as a golden age of glory, a Camelot.