I don’t know if I buy into the extensive analysis on social betters but I do think this film complicates the process of grief by adding a layer of idiosyncratic social weight to draw a very diverse and personal experience of Jackie O. Her internal chaos between treating her emotional insides and managing a responsibility to the public is exhibited in all its convoluted disorder, and it’s hard to pinpoint when her psychology is attending inward or outward at any given moment. Jackie's initial composed reactions hint at a suppressive coping mechanism that could come off as artificial to some but is deeply true to how a person often responds to acute crises. In a way by making this film so specific to Jackie’s position, it becomes universal as grief is the experience that is most individualized psychologically, and this film expertly demonstrates how turbulent, confusing, unstable, and contextual everything is; noting the seemingly trivial details of each scene with studied awareness, as sometimes we focus on the superficialities of life to distract or draw significance of in forming memory.
And of course there is the other specific factor that Jackie has the rug pulled out from under her in her role as First Lady, the President’s wife, and as Johnson moves in she finds herself becoming pragmatic about how to sell items to pay for her children’s school, partly to sublimate her tragic powerlessness into practical action, partly a reality that she must cope with a drop in status, and partly a shock to the immediate diffusion of her own identity, which was formed through another, and holding onto that identity charges her actions through the rest of the film through focusing on Jack and her ability to construct their place in history, reciprocating her ideological duty and selfishly protecting her sense self through public achievement.
Portman has never been better, and justly remains as enigmatic to us as she is to herself. Despite being well-liked, it's not surprising to me that she lost the Oscar, as the people want someone they can access with empathy more easily. It's a brave and challenging performance, more than she's given credit for (and she's been given many accolades for this one) but it's one of the best I've ever seen. The score is intense but captures the murky swirling of emotions in its own diverse, unpredictable complexity that feels illusive and not of this world - just like the process of grief, let alone juggling multiple roles as wife, public figure, classist icon, and mythmaker. The pull between attention to broad external ideology and attention to personal internal trauma-processing tears one apart in ways even the most artificially imposing music can never emulate, but at least this film attempts a different kind of music that feels like it's crawling inside the skin, like an anxious dream that's always on the verge of turning into a nightmare.
The use of the theme of history is dense, and serves several purposes in the film. There is the idea of history itself as canonized, shaped by those 'betters,' so Jackie can use her power to cement her husband's legacy, and even to choose how she wears a veil in the public funeral, issuing control where she can to make tangible the nebulous impact of loss. The repetitions of “I need to talk to him” regarding Oswald are heartbreaking for this same reason, a desperate need displayed under the robes of a layered exterior, all the more indistinguishable due to her other ‘obligations’ from her social context and capacity for signified evaluations. She needs to get it ‘right’ for that process of signification on top of her grief, shielding and exposing simultaneously. The importance of history becomes Jackie’s mission of identity, securing her own and offering an avenue to charity in giving meaning to the American people. Bobby’s breakdown about accomplishment, struggling to find meaning beyond image, and wishing they did "more" juxtaposes with Jackie’s own reaction to the events in resilience.
This leads to an even more personal, acute grief within the scope of the limitless expansion of history as another contrast of existentialism, where Jackie, with comforts in complacency removed, must face her own place in the grand scheme of things to transcribe definition, and does so by initiating small actions to form meaning such as walking publicly in the funeral procession. Her breaking down and shouting that there should have been more people, cameras, crying, etc. at the funeral in the interview, and the ideation to be killed in front of the funeral audience to the priest, mirrors Bobby’s reaction in the desire for all the tangible attention in the world to comfort her and to validate the immense pain she feels. Nothing can possibly be enough, but the need for "more" is her most authentic, human moment, divorced from the other strings pulling her apart.
And there is the feeling of connection, the intimacy that Jackie brought between the people to the leaders, between the ordinary citizens and these wealthy “social betters” as people with commonalities and shared history through offering a pathway to tangibility and substance. She cemented a legend, contributed to history and helped band together the people with these ideas, ideas which we can attach value to, that are gone but live on in their own way. I don't mean to argue that Jackie was a savior or that she was a great person, but what she did do is prioritize a human drive that she was in the position to initiate: The need to preserve, to remember, to transmit, to make meaning, to make men into icons which become real, to take a “brief, shining moment” and know it’s fleeting and gone but somehow harbor its energy to live on, retain significance, and accrue connotation through exposure to time, but colored by Jackie's actions as an endowment.
Still, here is a story that in being incredibly specific and even repellent in its unrelatable aspects (time period, social standing, power, secrecy, impenetrability, music!) tells the story of the unique circumstances every person is isolated with when it comes to life, let alone an experience as universal as loss. Nobody would ever make a movie about my life, but if they did there would be plenty of excluding adverse details as well as inclusive empathetic ones. The trick here is to empathize with what we can and acknowledge what we cannot as special, intimate contexts that should be treated with compassion, and (hopefully) trigger the curiosity to peer into what we don't understand with humility and willingness to listen by uniting behind humanity.