Levi’s score rarely underlines the action, possibly because she didn’t write the music for specific scenes. She gave Larraín a selection of cues she thought fit the time period, and he then slotted them into the film. One transition takes Jackie from a discussion with Kennedy confidant William Walton to a birthday party for JFK Jr. If Levi came close to writing anything vaguely “happy” for Jackie, it is a plangent theme for flute, played on Friday night by Nathalie Joachim. Average out Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies and the herald of a Disney bird, and you have a sense of the motif.
But Larraín doesn’t wrench any of the music into line with the action. After Jackie tells Walton that she’s lost her husband to the “oil paintings” of the White House, she removes her shoes and carries a birthday cake into a room full of children, singing. Her voice and Levi’s score are not close in key, a thing Larraín doesn’t bother to mask. It clashes. In the cinema, this moment was exquisitely sad. With a live orchestra, as a concert, the scene was an exhilarating embrace of death, a party with candles for the still and moving images.
Sasha Frere-Jones is a writer and musician from Brooklyn.