At first I wasn’t too interested in seeing Jackie. I mean there have already been enough made-for-TV movies of JFK and Jackie Kennedy. The film would not only have to justify being made but also its big-screen release.
The film begins with a journalist interviewing Jackie Kennedy in her home just days after JFK’s assassination. It’s like one minute she’s the First Lady living in the White House and the next, she’s a young widowed mother living in a private home miles away. The journalist begins with small talk but the questions move to the assassination and the aftermath.
It is from that point the film flashes back to various moments. Moments when Jackie and John attended Camelot: a musical JFK was captivated by. Moments like Jackie right after the shooting cleaning the blood off her clothes. Moments like being comforted by Bobby Kennedy, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, and White House social secretary Nancy Tuckerman whom Jackie would later confide in. Moments like making funeral plans. Moments like her dealing with the priest and her questioning her faith more than ever.
It’s moments like those where Jackie feels more lost than ever as a person. It’s moments like these where Jackie wonders what to leave as a legacy for her husband. It’s during that time she uncovers truths many tried to hide from her, but she knew. It’s also moments when Jackie learns to be strong on the inside. In the end, she regains her faith while talking to the priest. In the end, she makes the final decisions on her husband’s funeral. In the end, she chooses to have her husband’s legacy remembered as ‘Camelot.’
Now keep in mind when this film came out, I was not too interested in seeing it. I mean the role of Jackie Kennedy has been included in too many made-for-TV film. When I saw this film about to be released, I was thinking “This film had better justify its big screen format.” This is not just simply a film that’s a biography. This film focuses on Jackie not even during ten days of her life. This is one of the most critical times of her life as she went from being Jackie Kennedy to a widow in an instant. Many of us know a lot of Jackie Kennedy, but this film presents an angle of Jackie Kennedy few of us knew. The smile and happy charm of Jackie Kennedy we are all familiar with is now replaced with a Jackie Kennedy that is hurting inside. She feels like she’s nothing without JFK. Her faith both in God and in the magic of Camelot has been challenged to more than what she can handle. She even feels like she’s worthless as a mother to her children. That was Jackie right after JFK died. That was Jackie those many days later dealing with the journalist.
We also see another angle to Jackie. This film goes through scenes happening in various moments of time in Jackie’s life. We see some scenes when JFK was still alive but most scenes are various times after his assassination. With those scenes, we see the different aspect of Jackie few knew. We have always known Jackie Kennedy the First Lady to be charming, charismatic, sweet and outgoing. Here in the film, we notice that Jackie is not the prissy, naive Jackie as most of us thought she was. She knew of her husband’s infidelity. She knew of Wanted For Treason posters published by dissenters days before his assassination. She did have concern about tax dollar use for her husband’s funeral. She even considered her publicity an interference: “I never wanted fame. I just became a Kennedy.” She even questioned her faith with the priest. These are all aspects most never knew of Jackie Kennedy. However the film also shows Jackie as a person who doesn’t lose faith in the things she believes in. Despite going through the hardest moment of her life, she still finds the inner strength to keep her faith in God and to believe in the power of books and theatre. “I believe the characters we read on the page become more real than the men who stand beside us.” That would take a lot for someone to still believe in especially after what happened.
This is an excellent breakthrough film for Pablo Llarain. This is his first English-language feature and he does a very good job in directing the story and scenes. Also done well is the script from writer Noah Oppenhein. He’s most famous as the scriptwriter for The Maze Runner. Jackie is a big change of pace for him. It’s very common nowadays to do films of a certain famous person and have it focus on a certain brief period of their life instead of the common biography-style film you’d expect. It’s done many times in films like The Queen, Capote and Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. It’s also a difficult challenge because in doing so, they have to construct a story that looks like it sums up the protagonists lifetime in that brief period of time. Oppenheim succeeded in constructing a very 3D Jackie Kennedy in that brief period of her life.
It’s not just Oppenheim’s story of Jackie that worked well but also the performance of Natalie Portman. At first, I was skeptical of the idea of having Portman play Jackie Kennedy. She did not come as the type of personality to play her at first. However Portman did an excellent job in her portrayal of Natalie and portraying the personal traits and feeling of Jackie in the scenes of the story. The film also shows an excellent maturity in the acting of Natalie Portman. Sometimes we forget she was 35 when she was filming this film and Jackie Kennedy was 34 when this incident happened. This film shows Natalie’s acting maturity very well. For all intents and purposes, Jackie Kennedy was the role with the most depth and range in the film. Nevertheless there were supporting performances that delivered well despite their limited range, like Peter Saarsgard and Bobby Kennedy and Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman. The costuming from Madeline Fontaine and the music from Mica Levi also added to the quality of the film.
Jackie did justify its big screen format in the end. It’s an excellent film about carrying grace under such devastating heartbreak and reminded us why we admire Jackie Kennedy so much.
I don’t know all that goes on in ballet. I’m sure some dancers can have a better knowledge of all that happens, like rehearsals and backstage secrets. Black Swan is the story of an insecure dancer who receives the role of a lifetime in Swan Lake and works to achieve it, despite what possible tragedies lay ahead.
We first meet Nina Sayers: a young insecure aspiring dancer of a New York ballet company. Her mother, who’s a failed dancer and now an amateur artist, loves Nina and supports her but is very controlling of her. One important note: Nina has many psychotic symptoms like delusions and colorful hallucinations. She also purges herself at times. The director Thomas Leroy announces he’s putting a new twist on the production of Swan Lake. In this production, a virginal pure girl is trapped in the body of a swan only love can free. She falls for a prince but her evil twin, the Black Swan, tricks him and seduces him. Devastated, the white swan jumps off a cliff and find freedom in death. In this production, they’re looking for a new dancer that can play both swans.
There are auditions for this and there is a lot of rivalry between the girls. For so long, they all aspired to replace Beth McIntyre who has been the ensemble’s top dancer for so many years. Beth herself is devastated by the news and wrecks her dressing room in the process. During practice Thomas points to Nina that she’s perfect in the technical aspect in her dancing but lacks grace, and points to a dancer named Lily as an example of grace. The results are then announced that Nina is cast as the swan.
This should make Nina happy but is given harsh words from a drunken Beth at a benefit gala where Thomas promotes Nina. Days later, Beth attempts suicide by throwing herself into a car. Thomas tries to get Nina to loosen up for her role as the Black Swan. He even kisses her with power and recommends masturbating. Nina sees a suspicious rash coming on her shoulders. She even suspects Lily, who’s cast as her understudy, is trying to take her role away from her.
One night Lily arrives at Nina’s door and takes her for a night on the town. She meets Lily’s gay friends and takes drugs Lily offers her. The two then have sex at Nina’s house after an enraged argument with her mother. Waking up alone, she arrives at the rehearsals with Lily standing in as the Swan Queen. Furious with Lily not waking her upon, Nina argues only to learn sleeping with Lily was just a drug-induced illusion.
The night before opening, Nina rehearses late and experiences more delusions like lily and Thomas having sex. She visits Beth in the hospital only to see Beth stab her face with a nail file. Upon returning home, she sees her mother’s paintings mocking her, pulls a black feather from the rash on her back, her eyes turn into swan eyes and her legs contort into swan legs. Upon steadying herself, she falls and knocks herself unconscious.
The morning of the opening performance, she wakes up to find out her mother locked her in her room and let the company know she can’t make it because she’s not well. Nina forces her way out violently and arrives at the company to prepare for the White Swan. The first act goes well until Nina is distracted by another image and a lights glare; the Prince drops her during an overhead lift. Nina returns to the dressing room to see Lily dressing as the Black Swan. Lily then turns into Nina whom Nina fights and even stabs with a broken mirror. Nina then hides Lily’s bloody body in the closet. Nina returns to the stage as the Black Swan. It is during her performance that the rash on her back sprouts black swan feathers and becomes wings as she dances flawlessly and gracefully. The audience gives her a standing ovation and she kisses Thomas with power.
Back in her dressing room, Lily comes in to congratulate her. She then learns she never fought Lily but the stabbing from the mirror glass was not only real, but she stabbed herself as the White Swan. For the final act, Nina dances gracefully as the White Swan. At the end where the Swan is to jump to her death off the cliff, Nina sees her mother in the audience crying. Nina jumps and the audience erupts in applause. The cast, especially Lily, is horrified to see blood from Nina’s stab wound but Nina lays dying and happy that she everything she could to achieve the perfect performance.
Despite it showing some truths about the ballet world, ballet is not what Black Swan is mostly about. Nor is it about the dark truths of the ballet world. It’s mostly about life imitating art as the director gives a new twist to Swan Lake and it imitates Nina’s own life from her trying to impress Thomas to loosening herself with Lily to dying in order to free herself from her mother. It’s about delusions and it either interfering with reality or sending a message. It’s about whether it’s better to fade down or end on top. It’s about people in the arts world that have either this freeness or extremeness about them. It’s also about dying for one’s art. All these themes are present in Black Swan which is what makes it unique, frightening and even beautiful.
The biggest highlight of the movie was the acting and the dancing of Natalie Portman. This was a role of a lifetime and Natalie mastered it. Also excellent was Mila Kunis as the loose, confident Lily. Barbara Hershey, who played the mother, did a lot with what little screen time she had. Darren Aronofsky did an excellent job in directing this in what is only his fifth feature. His previous work The Wrestler showed that bigger things was going to come from him and they have. The trio of scriptwriters also did an excellent job in writing a clever but haunting script. This has to be one of the best films about dance ever made.
Black Swan has been a darling of film critics and awards juries. Black Swan has also done well at the box office so it’s nice to see it’s also succeeding commercially. Black Swan may confuse some at first but one would understand it more as the film progresses. I don’t know if it will win Best Picture but it is surely deserving of the Oscar and all of its nominations. Definitely worth seeing.