Imagine violin strings being caressed by cellos, unifying as one to create a crescendoing siren effect. The notes gliss dramatically to give you the fear of drowning and gasping for whatever breath is left for you. Then these notes descend and there's a relief provided by the airy angelic flute, like catching your breath for the first time. Jackie (2016) is a one-of-a-kind film about the events after the assassination of John F. Kennedy told from the perspective of Jackie Kennedy, and what makes this film unique is its shivering-sublime score. These 'sirens' we hear in the opening of the film bring distraught emotions and distortion that Jacqueline Kennedy was battling during the days of her husband’s death.
In the opening scene where we first hear Mica Levi’s track, we are given a close-up of Jackie Kennedy walking to her house, a week after the death of J.F.K. The camera stays fixated on Jackie, which allows the audience to notice the sadness in her eyes. In one of the scenes, Jackie tells her interviewer that this is not her home, nor was the White House; I connected what she told the interviewer and the opening scene to emphasize uncertainty and loss of self. Uncertainty because her role as a housewife and first lady has been diminished and so is her identity. Sometimes when I look at that first scene, it feels as if Jackie doesn’t know where she’s headed or what the future has in store for her.
Then, there’s the “Empty White House” track, one of the most chilling scenes of the movie where Jackie returns to the White House after her husband was taken for an autopsy and is walking in the halls covered in his blood. This is my favorite scene because the cinematography along with Mica Levi’s score goes in depth on how people experience grief. As Jackie is walking the halls of the White House, we hear the ascension and descension of those violin and cello chords; these chords are more melancholic compared to the high-rising notes at the beginning of the film. The chords quickly change from a slow vibrato to sharp, high-pitch notes where you can hear the strings being scratched together, causing a shrieking sound that will give you goosebumps. This conveys the idea that Jackie is a living, walking ghost. This is because she walks through the halls in a slow catatonic state with nobody around but empty rooms. We are even given a full shot that allows us to see the bloodstains from her skirt dripping down to her leg, giving the impression that she died that day as well.
Dissociation comes to mind when watching this scene; it makes you flashback to the scenes of Jackie giving a tour of the White House with the utmost smile and poise. By contrast, now she walks in an isolated White House. Jackie feels like she is stepping into an unknown territory similar to that opening scene of her walking to her house. When she walks into the children’s room and her bedroom, it all seems unfamiliar to her because all the memories that were cherished in those rooms have been tainted by the devastation. In her interview, Jackie compares the White House to Camelot; both became fallen kingdoms after their rulers died. It makes sense for the White House to feel like a kingdom because, in the other half of the track, the chords have these regime tones as if we are suggesting Jackie Kennedy had the poise and elegance of a royal queen.
What I love about Jackie is how it leans into the female perspective. Many films have female gazes like Ophelia (2019) that tells “her” side of the story and explores her thoughts, emotions, and desires. Jackie does that well. I’ve never analyzed a film score quite like Mica Levi’s. I think we underestimate the narrative music offers to the story. While the film has multiple close-ups of Jackie so we can take in what she is feeling, Levi’s score is the true heart of bringing forth grief, dissociation, and loss of self to Natalie Portman’s performance of Jackie.