I thought Oliver Stone’s JFK would be the weirdest movie I ever saw about the Kennedy assassination, but Jackie has surpassed it. I went to see it again, thinking I must have been mistaken in my first impression. The film can’t possibly be as bizarre as I remember, I thought. I must have just misunderstood it.
I did get a few lines of dialogue slightly wrong in my original review, but as it turned out, the lines were even stranger than I remembered. In Jackie’s frenzied query about the caliber of the bullet, she not only says she thinks it’s a heavier round “like soldiers use”, but also like those used for deer hunting.
Also, her aide doesn’t say “build a fortress in Boston and disappear.” He says “Disappear. Build a fortress in Boston.” Not appreciably better.
I talked to someone else about this movie, trying to work out what it was all about. She had an interesting interpretation: that the Journalist and the Priest who Jackie talks to aren’t meant as literal characters but as representatives of Journalism and Religion.
This would explain why these characters don’t have names; they are just “the Journalist” and “the Priest”. It also explains why their dialogues with Jackie seem so surreal. The Journalist, in particular, is way too rude to her–I don’t think a journalist would speak like that to any interview subject, especially not the President’s widow. But if he’s representing Journalism in general, Jackie’s perception would be that Journalists are incredibly rude.
Interpreted this way, the dialogues aren’t two characters talking; they are philosophical exercises meant to examine Jackie’s relationship to the institutions of the Press and the Church. And by extension, it makes sense to guess that most of the rest of the movie is her interaction with another institution: the Government.
If you watch the movie this way, you get the sense that Jackie is extremely disenchanted with all three of these. That’s sort of what I meant when I wrote the movie was subversive–major institutions appear useless or untrustworthy.
All that said, I’m still not convinced that this is the way to interpret the movie. Besides which, I’ve never been a big fan of allegories, and this one–if indeed that is what it is–is still ham-handed. A piece of drama must work first as drama, and only then can it have allegorical or symbolic meaning. The dialogues in Jackie are not smooth dialogues, no matter how much philosophical depth they may have or aspire to have.
But I don’t want to just give a short-attention span dismissal and say, “Oh, the script is rotten. Sad!” Because while it gets almost all the micro-level details of dialogue wrong, there is one very macro-level idea that it gets right, and that is the use of images and symbols (e.g. JFK’s funeral procession) to create legacies, and to shape the perception of history.
A few other observations:
- The soundtrack didn’t seem as bad this time, although I still thought it came in too loud at inappropriate times when silence would have been better.
- The scene where the Priest sums up his reflections on Life and Death is very strong, largely because it is the late John Hurt delivering the lines. Great actor. R.I.P.
- I said this before, but it’s worth repeating: all the acting was great, which was especially impressive given the problems I’ve mentioned with the dialogue.
- Have I mentioned I have some issues with the script?
Lastly, I don’t get why people are calling this a “biopic”. It isn’t one. A biopic should give you a sense of who a person is, and how they evolve over time. Jackie takes place over a very short time frame, and it deals with a woman’s reaction to a tragic and shocking crime that had few historical parallels. That’s fascinating subject matter, but it’s not a biopic because it really doesn’t give you a larger sense of who Jackie was or what her life was like.
I’m not complaining about that. I think this was a far more innovative thing to do. I’m just saying they shouldn’t be calling it a “biopic”. It’s more of a historical drama, on the order of Julius Caesar.
That’s all for now. I might write more later. This movie has limitless potential for discussion.