Features and Columns · Movies

The Sound of Trauma: The Aural Storytelling of ‘Jackie’

How does sound affect how we understand a character? For Pablo Larraín’s film it’s more than just an accent.
sound of Jackie Portman Concert
Fox Searchlight
By  · Published on September 2nd, 2020

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video that explores sound in Pablo Larraín’s Jackie.

At the end of the day, a movie is just two things: what we see and what we hear.

The former tends to hog the bulk of attention. Images, after all, are immediate and assertive. They’re easier to describe in isolation, as is their impact on us as viewers. I can confidently gush about an amusing whip-pan, a heartbreaking long take, or an exhilarating crane shot. I can parse the narrative punch of thematic colors, cut-away close-ups, and evocative mise-en-scène.

We tend to recall scenes and setpieces with visual touchstones. But for the untrained ear, sound has more subconscious rhythms. Its methods are less overt and more opaque, and sound design is often considered a success when it goes unnoticed. So it’s always a good reminder that, indeed, sound is working away in the wings. It plays a vital and complex role in how we digest stories.

The video essay below offers a marvelous breakdown of the narrative power of sound, unpacking the aural elements of Pablo Larraín‘s Jackie. The film follows Jackie Kennedy  (Natalie Portman) before, during, and after the assassination of her husband. And the essay unpacks how the film uses sound to impart the evolving grief, hope, and trauma of the former First Lady, from the alterations of her voice to the aural intimacy of nonverbal sounds and the emotional coloring of short motifs that unite moments of loneliness across the film.

Watch “The Sound of Jackie:

Who made this?

Oswald Iten is a Swiss freelance illustrator, animator, and film critic. You can browse his back catalog of video essays on his Vimeo page. You can find Iten’s official website, which includes his catalog of illustrations and animation showreels, here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).