How ‘Jackie’ Captures the Poise and Pain of the 35th First Lady

“Neither he nor his parents sinned, but this man was born blind so that the works of God may be manifest in him.” The story of the man born blind from the Gospel of John as retold by Jackie Kennedy’s priest encapsulates one of the most poignant morals in the new film Jackie. It is recounted at a seminal moment of the film while the first lady finds herself in the throes of grief after her husband’s assassination. It illustrates the inspiring lesson that weak and fragile people are often propelled into tragic conditions to manifest heroic virtue and model humanity’s resilience. Surely, we would not recall the man born blind from the multitude of paralyzed people in history had Jesus not manifest Himself in the man’s miraculous healing. Likewise, Mrs. Kennedy would not be so admired and revered had she not been precisely the figure of resilience that the nation needed in the face of a president’s violent and unexpected assassination.

The film Jackie recalls the days before President Kennedy’s funeral and his widow’s subsequent struggle to find peace after a life-shattering event. Amidst it all, Jackie Kennedy remains a model of modesty and strength in the face of unsettling tragedy. It is a powerful example that a 21st century populace desperately needs. That screenwriters need a figure from five decades ago to teach us this lesson speaks to how unfamiliar we are with displays of emotional temperance and sober dignity.

The road to virtue is never linear, and Jackie’s strength as a film is that it portrays the struggle and pain that most humans experience in someone who perpetually conveyed poise and nobility. Jackie Kennedy privately confronts questions that might cast doubt on the resolute and stalwart image that most Americans saw on television. She wonders about God’s goodness in leaving two young children fatherless. Yet when she needs to provide comfort and reassurance to them, Jackie says assuredly to little John and Caroline: “Daddy is in Heaven with Patrick so your brother wouldn’t be lonely.” Even with her own misgivings and questions, Jackie demonstrates her integrity by refusing to impose her pain onto others.

The Kennedy family image as American royalty is quickly dispelled with more immediate issues. Even before her husband’s internment, in the midst of rampant security concerns and the transition of presidential power, the former first lady is confronted with a sobering realization, that she and her two children will soon be homeless.

In a semi-dazed state, Jackie recounts that the widows of previously assassinated presidents died in destitution and she begins to frantically plan how she might pay for her children’s future education. She does not have the luxury to indulge her sorrow for long.

While President Johnson and foreign leaders try to persuade her to take a safer and more pragmatic approach to the funeral arrangements, Jackie holds her ground. Pragmatism and safety are not fitting to the occasion of a historic presidential burial. She knows that the nation needs a ceremony to say goodbye to their beloved leader. Jackie singlehandedly ensured that her late husband was duly honored and that America was able to properly mourn, even if it meant sacrificing her own grieving process by placing it in front of the cameras—and the entire world.

“Nothing is ever mine, at least not for long anyway,” Jackie says in response to her imminent eviction from the White House. This realization is a reminder to today’s culture, one consumed with the present and accumulation with the material, that all things end and that loss, disappointment, and suffering are inevitable. As a film, Jackie extolls a much-needed figure of sacrifice and emotional restraint. This is the real reason Jackie should be admired—not primarily for her glamour and beauty, but because, in the face of harrowing circumstances, Jackie exhibited a temperance, courage, and dignity to which the rest of us can only aspire.

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