Last Wednesday, I went to a screening of Jackie.
This was the third free screening that I had attended at various theaters around Atlanta in less than three weeks. I had also just finished my very last final of the semester at ten o’clock that morning. I was completely packed and ready to go home the next day. All in all, I was giddy from good luck, excitement, and relief. Going to see the movie was my only plan for the evening, and it was a good and welcome one.
I went with Sam, my friend and cohort in many an interesting Uber excursion. She too had survived the biology exam with me hours before, and I thought it would be a perfect thing to do together before the holiday.
It was. We were a bit rushed and had very little time to take in the surroundings of the Tara Cinemas, however. We arrived inside right at seven o’clock, the movie’s schedule start time, and were directed to the last remaining seats. And where were these seats, you ask?
Why do you ask. They were in the very front row.
Fortunately, there was a distance between the front row and the screen that is unique, I think, to smaller, less commercial movie theaters. Also fortunately, we at least got to sit in the very middle of the row, so it was more of an IMAX experience than a sideways, off-kilter one.
When the movie began, the magic happened, as they say. I was first struck by how well-framed everything was. Media studies nerd-alert, I know. But Natalie Portman is completely and perfectly positioned throughout the entire film. Her face is balanced in each shot, the cars are centered or not, the buildings, etcetera. The lighting, the eerie music, you name it. It felt appropriately complex and calculated. The cinematography felt as heavy but significant as the material it conveyed. It alone was exquisite.
Then, of course, there was the way that the story was told. I had no idea how they were going to approach it beforehand. Would it chronicle JFK’s assassination from the eyes of Jackie in order of the events as they occurred? Would the movie’s plot take place years later? Where would it begin? These questions are answered almost as quickly as they are asked; a reporter on screen immediately knocks on Jackie’s door. He is interviewing her after JFK’s funeral. Later, of course, time is further skewed by the presence of a priest, but for the most part the movie progresses through a series of flashbacks and storytelling through the eyes of Natalie Portman as Jackie herself. I thought that this was a very compelling way to tell the story, as it allowed viewers to go back and forth from the impact of the assassination on both the United States and mental state of Jackie O, as well as the time in the White House before, when everything was beautiful and lovely and there was no danger of losing everything. This contrast was clear, emphasized, and horribly sad.
Apart from the manner in which the story was told, there was the actual acting, the talent, that brought everything lovely and terrible to life. Natalie Portman was perfect. Like, Oscar-worthy perfect. She perfectly embodied Jackie’s grace, elegance, strength. At times it was unclear if she knew what she wanted, or what her relationship with JFK was really like, but I will attribute this to my admittedly scant knowledge of the Kennedys. Portman, however, became Jackie, completely exposing the psychological impacts that such a trauma would have on one’s self, life, family, and desires. She was luminary.
By the end of the film, it was as though I had been punched in the gut, without actually knowing why. It was such a strong film, perhaps. Or maybe the performance and final messages were just dumbfounding. In any case, I wanted to sit in the dark and quiet theater for as long as possible, not ready for the experience to be over.
When Sam finally dragged me up, though, I looked around and realized, for the first time, that we were the youngest people in the theater. Everyone was in their late thirties at least, and most seemed even older. A lady with white hair who had been sitting beside me, I realized, had actually been sniffling and trying not to cry. As we walked up the aisle, I heard discussions about the film begin to pick up all around us. They were debating the portrayal of Jackie, admiring or disputing the choice in actors, questioning how they found such a spot-on JFK look-alike, pondering the merits of that manner of storytelling.
There was a line to the bathroom, which was small and cramped and almost welcomed not only jokes about how cramped it was, but discussions about the film we had all just seen as well. One woman asked us what we thought of the movie, and we talked for a bit before learning that she was six years old at the time of JFK’s funeral, and remembered watching every detail on TV. “It was really a spectacle,” she said. I couldn’t tell if she said this reverently or not before it was time to wash my hands.
After leaving the tiny space, we were left to a nearly empty lobby. Nearly empty, accepting the sitting area complete with armchairs and a coffee table with a chess set, where several individuals were continuing their film debates at greater length. Critics! I thought excitedly, even though I have no idea if they actually were.
All around was an air of creativity, a feeling of philosophy and thought, complex analysis of film and art. There were movie posters for upcoming indie movies that I have been longing to see for ages scattered about the walls, and as we waited for our Uber back to reality, I walked around slowly, breathing it all in. I loved it—Jackie, the experience, everything. I loved discussing the story with the stranger in the line to the bathroom; I gained a new perspective. I loved watching an amazing performance from what probably wasn’t even a flattering angle. And I loved going to a new place, full of exciting, artistic, forward and critical thinking. I was in my element. And I can’t wait to go back. Very, very soon.