JFK – Oliver’s Twist: Or, Please Sir, May I Have Some More Conspiracy?

Stone does a masterful job of making a sound piece of entertainment. The characters are enthralling throughout JFK and the wild theories, in the manner they are presented to the viewer, are portrayed in a manner which makes them almost believable. The problem is, they are almost believable. Simple fact-checking allows the viewer to realize that there are many errors or rewrites of history made in order to improve quality of story. There have been countless books written on Stone’s depiction of history, and Stone has given plenty of interviews defending his point. Perhaps his view is best stated in a 1996 conversation he had with Interview’s Graham Fuller, in which he said that “the Warren Report is a myth, and that my movie, for want of having all the facts available, is a counter-myth.” [1]


Oliver Stone behind the camera

Oliver Stone behind the camera

It is with such a claim, that 3-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone begins his grandiose attempt at alternate history. He is often proved wrong, and at many junctures through his interviews regarding JFK, he readily admits to altering details to allow for a more Hollywood-ready story. However, he succeeds in asking many important questions, ruffling the feathers of several higher-ups, and if nothing else, forcing the nation to reconsider exactly what happened that November afternoon in Dallas, Texas. Perhaps, this was his only intent. Perhaps he never wanted to be “right,” or solve a decades-old whodunit. But the truth is, and must not be ignored, that he is, in multiple examples, very wrong.

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Stone begins his arguments in his typical style, with a frenetic collage of voices and images. When the voices whisper, the images scream with a primal violence that only Stone can achieve. The movie begins with a fast-paced overview of all the reasons why someone in the United States of Oliver may have wanted Kennedy out of the picture for good.

As motive goes, according to Stone, there is plenty to choose from. The April 1961 Bay of Pigs disaster resulted in the death of 114 American soldiers. Allen Dulles, the director of the CIA – an agency that Kennedy detested – is fired soon after.[2] In November of 1963, Kennedy demands a by-Christmas withdrawal of 1,000 troops from Vietnam, hoping to have a complete pullout after the 1964 election, believing Americans shouldn’t be expected to stop a Communist regime 9,000 miles away if they couldn’t stop one from ninety. [3]

Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev

Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev

The problem is, none of these reasons are valid. Kennedy’s Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, never heard JFK discuss a withdrawal from Vietnam.  Bobby Kennedy agreed, saying that “the President felt he had a strong, overwhelming reason for being in Vietnam…the loss of Southeast Asia if you lost Vietnam.”[4] Furthermore, it has been stated that “his final speeches bristled with anti-Soviet rhetoric” and he was working towards a coup of Castro’s rule in Cuba. Thusly, if JFK was anti-Castro, anti-Soviet, and not turning dove, who could possibly have motive to kill Kennedy other than an off-the-rails former Marine rifleman posted in the window of a building on a Dallas street?


An off-the-rails, former Marine rifleman. AKA, Lee Harvey Oswald

An off-the-rails, former Marine rifleman. AKA, Lee Harvey Oswald

However, motive is only one of many issues found within Stone’s epic. His main protagonist, Jim Garrison, worked a theory so unrealistic in his failed prosecution of Clay Shaw that it took the jury less than an hour to find Shaw not guilty. The issue at the heart of this, the one piece of evidence that many people see as the absolute end-all proof of conspiracy, is the idea that there were not necessarily multiple shooters responsible for Kennedy’s death, but multiple people ensuring that Oswald would successfully take the shots, creating the idea that Oswald did not act alone.

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The issue with this is, it contradicts just about every federal investigation and document stating otherwise. The Warren Commission, which spent nine months coming to the conclusion that Oswald was the only shooter, is deemed to be wrong not just by the characters in Stone’s film, but by Jim Garrison himself in his book On the Trail of the Assassins. As an examination of his trial of Clay Shaw, Garrison reiterated his point that Kennedy was assassinated as part of a conspiracy involving Oswald, Shaw and David Ferrie.

Joe Pesci playing David Ferrie in JFK

Joe Pesci as David Ferrie

Tommy Lee Jones as Clay Shaw

Tommy Lee Jones as Clay Shaw

The bullet in question is said to have entered the back of Kennedy’s neck, exited through the front, struck the front seat passenger Governor Connally in the ribcage and lodged itself in his thigh. Detractors from this conclusion state that the path the bullet took zigged and zagged, hitting areas that would be impossible for a bullet to strike given a normal, logical path, unless the wounds were caused by multiple bullets from multiple shooters.

This is further “explained” by the idea that for all the shots to hit in the short amount of time, a near-impossible aiming skill would be necessary for there to only be one shooter. It’s a rather convenient explanation. Three shots, mere seconds elapse, of COURSE all three could hit with two shooters, when only one man is responsible for firing more than one shot!

However, all three shots did not make contact. As the Warren Commission determined, one of the three shots (although it is unclear which) missed entirely. It is determined that the time span between Kennedy’s neck and head shots was “approximately 4.8 to 5.6 seconds.” Furthermore, they determined that if the second shot missed, that this would be the total amount of time between all three shots. However, if either shots #1 or #3 missed, there would need to be 2.3 seconds of time added to account for rifle operation, bringing the total time to between 7.1- 7.9 seconds…two bullets probably caused all the wounds suffered by President Kennedy and Governor Connally.” [5]

The Warren Commission exhibit on the trajectory of the magic bullet

The Warren Commission exhibit on the trajectory of the "magic bullet"

The next major issue is the portrayal of the second conspirator, David Ferrie. While Joe Pesci does a masterful job as the MOVIE version of Ferrie, a paranoid, hyperactive man who hated Kennedy and believed HEARTILY in the fight to assassinate Kennedy, the true Ferrie was a devout Kennedy supporter and a staunch opponent of Castro. Furthermore, despite the movie’s insistence that Ferrie was murdered after confessing to the conspiracy [6], he was neither murdered nor ever a confessor to conspiracy against Kennedy. 

Ferrie died of a cerebral hemorrhage, not the foul play depicted in JFK. As writer James Phelan explains, “a berry aneurysm is a congenital defect. David Ferrie had been born with a weak artery wall in his hairless head, and it picked a dreadful time to give way.” [7] Garrison’s ADA stated in a History Channel documentary that “we went to Jim and said ‘your main witness is dead…you can’t go any further.’ He looked at us and said ‘are you crazy? We’re just getting onto something here.'” [8]

As for his “confession,” it wasn’t really like Ferrie got a chance. Although requesting face time with Garrison on several occasions, as well as repeated requests to try lie-detector and truth serum tests, he was turned down, repeatedly, by Jim Garrison himself.[9] If Ferrie never got the chance to confess before his death of natural causes, how could he POSSIBLY be a murdered killer as depicted in JFK?

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The answer is creative license. When you are the winner of a Best Picture and two Best Director Oscars before you begin filming this one, you can pretty much do whatever you want and call it art. However, as countless articles have shown, it is art, and not history. One educated on the Warren Report, the investigation’s involved parties and Jim Garrison himself can point out dozens of errors with the complete retooling of Garrison’s case. After watching the film, reading the articles and doing multitudes of other research, it becomes clear that much like Dan Quayle, Oliver Stone’s depiction is No Jack Kennedy.

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[1] Graham Fuller. “The Unstoppable Stone.” Interview. Jan. 1996.

[2] Warren Hinckle and William W. Turner. The Fish Is Red. (New York: Harper & Row, 1981), 112.

[3] JFK. Dir. Oliver Stone. Perf. Kevin Costner. DVD. 2002. 

[4] Reeves, Thomas C. The Journal Of American History 79 (1992): 1264.

[5] The Warren Commission.

[6] JFK. Dir. Oliver Stone.

[7] James Phelan, Scandals, Scamps and Scoundrels: The Casebook of an Investigative Reporter (New York: Random House, 1982), pp. 141-42.

[8] Time Machine: False Witness. History Channel. 2000.

[9] Patricia Lambert. False Witness. (New York: M.Evans and Co, 1992), 62.

2 Responses to “JFK – Oliver’s Twist: Or, Please Sir, May I Have Some More Conspiracy?”

  1. 1 Jackie Nov 18th, 2008 at 3:04 am

    Wowza! What are sharp wit! United States of Oliver! Dan Quayle! I’ll be laughing for weeks! I think McClurken will give you extra points just for snark– you know how he likes a good rant.

    You seem to have thoroughly discredited Stone. I must admit, he made me a believer after 3 hours convincing. I may have even taken out some of my pent up resentment on LBJ in following history classes.

    Good Job–Jackie Reed

  2. 2 Jackie Nov 18th, 2008 at 3:21 am

    Still- you might pay acknowledgment to the accuracies about Garrison himself. Clearly the guy did what he did and his determinedness was portrayed accurately, right? The conspiracy may not be history but the conspiracy theory is. –Jackie Reed

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