Jackie | Identity vs Expectations

An analysis of the 2016 film “Jackie”, directed by Pablo Larraín. Contains minor spoilers.

Jackie is the 2016 film based on the events following the assassination of president J.F. Kennedy through the perspective of his wife Jacqueline Kennedy. The film is about loss, but it also explores themes of identity and expectation.

jackie

As many public figures, Jackie lives her life playing the role other people want her to play. She is being guided by others, told what to do, told how to behave. She is more of a concept or symbol than a real, living person. Other people’s expectations of her shapes her identity. Consequently, she doesn’t truly know herself, since her identity is shaped by other’s expectations.

So, when the bullet hits her husbands head, and the resulting sorrow and shock and publicity, she loses her sense of self. She loses track of who she is and what she is supposed to do. All the things that has identified her, all the labels that other’s have put on her, are suddenly lost. She is no longer Mrs Kennedy, she is no longer the president’s wife, she no longer lives in the white house, she is no longer rich, she no longer has power, she is no longer ’important’.

And nobody has any sympathy for her. They treat her as an object as they immediately decides who is going to be the next president, how they are going to have the funeral, etc. Jackie is expected to do as they say, playing the role as mourning widow. Jackie is trying to assert herself and say what she wants and needs, only to be dismissed by men simply because the men just mysteriously know better than her.

In the film, we see Jackie’s struggle to find herself and repress her sorrow in a montage, as she walks aimlessly through the extravagant rooms of her former home, trying different dresses and accessories and make-up, to no avail attempting to find solace in luxury.

Eventually Jackie does come to terms with who she is and what she wants. She reaches acceptance of the loss of her husband, and sees the value in her children that cannot be found in status and luxury.

She has an interview with a journalist, retelling the events of the assassination. It is similar to a therapy session, the way she talks about her shock and sorrow. It mirrors her inner dialogue. But she does not let the journalist tell the entire truth of the events. Because she realizes the responsibility she has to her children—both her biological children and all the people of America—so she plays the role of Mrs Kennedy and romanticizes the tragic memory.

The song ”Camelot” expresses the way public figures are romanticized and turned into legends of ideal people. It reminds us that we need heroes and good role-models to look up to. But the film also shows us how all people are human, with emotions and flaws, no matter their status in society and how they are portrayed in media.

The film teaches us that it is sometimes necessary to conceal some parts of ourselves from the public, for both our and their sake. Sometimes we don’t have to tell the whole truth. Sometimes we can tell a white lie. Sometimes we can play a role. But the film also shows that it is equally important that we know ourselves, that we do not lose ourselves in the role we play and in the expectations others have of us, that we stand up for who we are when others put demands on us.