By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
The movie “Jackie” starring Natalie Portman as the aggrieved presidential widow is a great look into the assassination of the late President John F. Kennedy in 1963. It reveals the ensuing chaos and events that led up to the swift swearing in of Lyndon Baines Johnson and the solemn funeral procession of Pres. Kennedy. I was eager to learn upon whose account this screenplay was written, since this happened more than 50 years ago. The film provides flashbacks of the shooting, but not actual footage, just a re-staging as history has presented it. The film is anchored on an interview that a print reporter, played by Billy Crudup, is conducting with Jackie after her husband’s death. After searching, I find that the film is based upon the accounts of biographer Theodore H. White, who wrote “For President Kennedy: An Epilogue,” a Life magazine article that ran a week after Pres. Kennedy’s death.
The interview, which is conducted in Jackie’s Hyannis Port, Massachusetts home, is intimate, but at times Jackie is really snippy, even telling the reporter—whose name is never revealed in the film—that she will deny certain parts of the interview if they are published. But in Jackie’s defense, the reporter at times seems combative and interrupts her many times. Also, as I later learned, the reporter is a trusted friend. And we must remember that this was being done right after the President’s death. She is a mess, but Jackie tries to stay strong for her children, always eloquently dressed and concerned about how the late President will be remembered in this moment. She feels encroached upon by the Johnsons, because as she is planning a funeral (even digging up accounts of slain former Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s funeral), Lady Bird Johnson is looking at fabric swatches to help her re-decorate their new digs.
In White’s magazine article, he details how he didn’t file the story with editors until after 2 a.m., still at Jackie’s home, while she, as well, provided editing for the piece. She was bent on “envisioning” an image of “Camelot,” which is when that term was first used to describe the Kennedy’s time in the White House.
The film shows a tour of the White House, led by Jackie, which was televised in 1962, after an elaborate renovation. I viewed that display as sort of an accounting to the American people as to just how the Kennedy administration had spent the public’s funds. However, I don’t buy for a moment that there would have been a Black cameraman as part of a national television recording crew, back in the early 1960’s.
Not much is revealed about Pres. Kennedy’s alleged affairs, but in a somber chat with the President’s brother, Robert Kennedy played by Peter Sarsgaard, Jackie speaks of “Jack’s flaws.” Jackie is quoted as saying that she brought life to a cold house, in referring to the condition of the White House when Pres. Kennedy was elected in 1960. She also made a comment about a First Lady always having to have her bags ready. She laments that she never wanted fame, even though after all these years, she is fondly remembered as being at the helm of a “Camelot” era in the White House. And it is up to discussion about whether this sentiment was real or just thrown in the public’s face after the President’s death, in an effort to discount all the alleged infidelity and unpleasant events associated with the Kennedys. In a nod to all the old, stodgy paintings that adorned the White House walls, Jackie alluded to Pres. Kennedy’s likeness in this way. “Pretty soon, he’ll be just another oil portrait lining these hallways.”
“Jackie” is playing in theatres everywhere, and Portman’s name and the film have been bandied about in association with many film awards.