In one of the last scenes in “Jackie,” Pablo Larrain’s latest movie, Natalie Portman – who plays Jacqueline Kennedy in the days following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, until his funeral – is sitting in the back seat of an armored car. She looks through the window with that cold mien that characterizes her throughout the film.
Suddenly she notices mannequins being unloaded from a container next to a big department store. The car passes by the store quickly, but it's hard to miss that the mannequins are made in the likeness of Kennedy herself, with short dark hair and long, spare figures. Some are garbed in conservative wool suits and others have small hats.
In a movie devoted to memory and heritage, this seems to be the moment that Kennedy realizes what her legacy is going to be: She will define American female elegance. She will inspire millions of American women as an eternal fashion icon.
It is supposed to be a rare and uplifting moment in an otherwise grim, dark film. But the scene only affirms the trap in which Kennedy found herself, a trap that constrains many women to this day.
The dramatic soundtrack together with Portman's use of a gravelly voice and heavy accent lead viewers to the horror in the grieving heart of a woman whose world has imploded.
But beyond the private grief so dramatically described in “Jackie” – which reaches its pinnacle during the funeral procession Kennedy leads, her face veiled in black – the film echoes another grief, that of women following Donald Trump’s surprise triumph in the 2016 American election. It is the disappointing realization that even 50 years after the events described in the movie, no woman has reached the highest office: leader of the free world. The closest they've come is wife of, and wife of has no real political power. She remains entirely dependent on the man at her side and goes down in memory mainly for her manners and good taste. The only communicative tool she has left is fashion, which in itself can symbolize grief – for lost youth, repression and lack of real power.
In the movie, Kennedy says her husband liked the soundtrack to “Camelot,” and over the melody of the musical's main theme, we see a collage of rare moments of happiness the couple experienced in an idyll of power and influence during his brief tenure, when they could still believe that nothing would ever change. But even in those moments of jubilation, Jackie Kennedy seems to fulfill the role of a character, not of a whole person.
Fifty years from now there might be a movie called “Melania,” about the life of the first lady of the United States who, flouting all expectations, brings a breath of fresh air to the White House – even though her husband’s term in office lasts only 18 months. It will show how Melania's hairstyle became popular worldwide, and close-up shots will emphasize the quality of her gorgeous clothes. But the real question is whether, by that time, we’ll have the pleasure of seeing a movie about the life of the American woman who became the first female president, no matter the cut of her suit or the color of her hair.
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