"Do you know what I think of history？When something is written down, does that make it true?"
This quote from the movie "Jackie" immediately came to mind when I saw the options "Artistic Freedom: Creative license helps biopics!" and "Biopics' Betrayal: When fact gives way to fiction" on Peliplat's biography film VS event.
"Jackie" is a work underrated by film buffs.
The director Pablo Larraín from Chile, known for handling politically charged subjects, is characterized by his distinct style of critical realism. His latest vampire themed film, "El Conde", is one example. "Jackie", like his other works, earned critical acclaim at film festivals (with three Oscar nominations and Best Screenplay award at the Venice Film Festival), but has received low ratings online (with a 6.9 rating on Peliplat and similar scores on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb).
The critiques of this film revolve their arguments around two main points. First, it seems to be made for Natalie Portman to win prizes for her performance, which sounds very opportunistic. Second, the story fails to show the greatness of Jacqueline, the "First Lady" who is considered the epitome of beauty and greatness in the hearts of Americans. Instead, she is depicted as a weak woman who constantly cries, which is an deviation from reality.
I was initially convinced by these comments that it must be a terrible film. However, after watching the movie, I found myself disagreeing with these negative opinions. In fact, "Jackie" conveys much more than just "performance" and "realism."
Let's start with the acting. Natalie Portman's performance in "Jackie" won her nominations for an Oscar a Golden Globe and a Golden Lion, which is solid evidence of the recognition of her acting skills. Whether for ‘opportunistic’ purposes or not, it is absurd to criticize a movie simply because the lead actor delivers an exceptional performance."
The question of whether biographical films should adhere strictly to reality is indeed a complex one. While biographical films draw from history and should respect it, there have been instances where adherence to reality gives way to artistic liberties to better convey emotions, themes, and stories.
Take Mel Gibson's "Braveheart", which won both box office success and Oscars as an example. The film portrays William Wallace as a brave warrior in a Scottish village who develops a hatred for the English after they invade his village and kill his wife. He then leads a rebellious uprising before meeting his demise at the hands of the English. William Wallace was indeed an important leader in the Scottish resistance against England, but a more elite one than he is portrayed as in the film. He was actually born into a Scottish noble family and led a privileged life. It is also agreed by historians that he did not engage in battles with the English solely for avenging his wife. Additionally, the film inaccurately portrays Wallace's attire, showing him wearing a Scottish kilt, whereas medieval Scots did not wear kilts.
Although "Braveheart" might be a bad example in terms of historical accuracy, it is absolutely an outstanding one considering its epicness. It combines elements of childhood hardship, love, revenge, war, betrayal and suffering, accompanied by a gripping plot and the haunting sound of Scottish bagpipes, which moves viewers to tears even as they are aware of the film's deviation from historical facts.
Now let's return to "Jackie". In fact, the director conveys to the audience as early as the second line of the movie through Jackie's conversation with the journalist that this will not be a strictly historical biographical film.
"This will be your own version of what happened?" "Exactly."
From another perspective, the English title is "Jackie," not "Jacqueline," which is the nickname of this legendary woman. This choice of title implies that this movie will not be a biopic strictly conforming to historical facts. Furthermore, while Jacqueline serves as the prototype for the character, the true creators of Jackie are director Pablo Larraín and screenwriter Noah Oppenheim. The story they have crafted forms the heart of this movie.
So, what is the underlying message of this story? Interpretations may vary, but for me, this story resonates with me in two aspects.
The first aspect is the depiction of ordinary people behind the facade of greatness.
Rather than delving into her childhood or how those experiences shaped her personality as traditional biographical films would, this film focuses on the aftermath of Kennedy's assassination. It portrays how Jackie quickly transitions from being the First Lady to an ordinary person, for example she being asked to vacate the White House.
There are several subtle details that convey this aspect. For example, after Kennedy's assassination, Jackie is wearing bright clothes stained with blood in front of a mirror. The camera captures her complex expression reflected through three mirrors, suggesting the depth of her sorrow. In that poignant moment, she grieves not only for the loss of her husband, mourning his brutally interrupted career, but also regrets for herself, believing that she will soon lose the light along with his death.
The same melancholy is true in the scene where she chooses a grave for her husband. Her husband, once the admired President of the United States, will rest quietly in the grave. The tombstones in the cemetery appear almost identical, which makes it difficult to distinguish without the inscriptions on them.
On the day she officially moves out of the White House, Jackie sees workers carrying mannequins on the roadside. This action serves as a metaphor: Society is like a grand stage, and social status is like beautiful attire. No matter how glamorous the models may appear, the bodies beneath the exquisite garments are fragile. Even the most dazzling figures on the stage will eventually take a bow.
In the film, both Jackie and her deceased husband are portrayed as ordinary people behind the glamorous facade.
It is worth noting that Jackie's relationship with Kennedy is complex. Much like any ordinary couple, it is a relationship filled with love but also moments of discord.
Their relationship may not have been as harmonious as it appeared to the public. For instance, there was a lack of sexual intimacy for an extended period, which is subtly revealed in her conversations with a priest. She may have faced criticism from her husband for her extravagance. When she appeared on television to showcase the White House renovations, she wears a forced smile. It also seems that she experienced neglect from her husband. During her filming, when Kennedy visited her, he only briefly glanced at her before shifting his focus to the production crew. Kennedy did not offer any apologies for disrupting her filming.
Yet, they loved each other for sure. If her tears after her husband's death carries a sense of pessimism about her own future, her sincere expression of love for her husband is more apparent in a conversation with a journalist in her backyard. When discussing the moment the bullet struck her husband, she weeps and says, "His head was so beautiful." It is an expression filled with love. She also narrates to the journalist a joyous moment of dancing with her husband at a party. The journalist can’t tell if it is her imagination or a real event, but through the camera lens, we can observe her subtle expressions while describing that scene.
Only after I fully understand the imperfect yet genuine love between Jackie and Kennedey do I realize the second aspect that the movie has had on me: the granting of a meaning to death.
Death itself is meaningless. In the movie, we can see that government officials hope to deal Kennedy's death as discreetly as possible to quickly return to normal life. What Jackie does is find ways to give meaning to her husband's death in such an environment.
At the beginning, Jackie compares her husband to Lincoln, aiming to secure the same treatment Lincoln received to prove her husband's greatness. She is aware that there have been three assassinated presidents in American history, but people only remember Lincoln. If she does not take action, her husband's death will soon be forgotten. A funeral may not seem like a significant accomplishment, but one would think otherwise considering the grief she is experiencing due to her husband's death, her concerns about her gloomy future, and the obstacles she faces from many officials including the new president.
On the day of the funeral, she makes eye contact with the mourners outside the car window, which is the most memorable scene for me in the movie. What moves me is not Kennedy's greatness in that moment, but the subtle relationship between her and the crowd. On one hand, she has insisted on emphasizing that her husband is a good father and a good president in front of the public while keeping silent about their private grievances. It is precisely because of this that people come to mourn Kennedy. On the other hand, through the respect the crowd shows towards Kennedy, she realizes her own dignity.
At the end of the movie, she tells the journalist that Kennedy's favorite story was Camelot, a musical. Regardless of the truth of this story, the journalist is moved by what she says. Camelot ultimately becomes the title of the journalist's coverage of Kennedy's thousand days in office, and it leads to continuous follow-ups by various media outlets. Honesty, bravery, fairness, and the pursuit of truth becomes the evaluations of Kennedy during his three years in office.
"Putting a lid on the coffin" is a Chinese idiom. It means that unexpected changes can occur while someone is alive, and one should not prematurely draw conclusions about them. Only when they have died, there will be no more changes, and thus one can make a final judgment. This is exactly what Jackie does in the movie, fulfilling her responsibility as Jacqueline, the First Lady, and as Jackie, the wife of Kennedy, displaying her love for her husband.