The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for JFK can be found here.
JFK is a fictionalized account, told through the eyes of former New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison (played by Kevin Costner), of events leading up to and following the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963 in Dallas, Texas. It focuses on Garrison's belief that a conspiracy was involved and that Kennedy's alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (played by Gary Oldman) did not act alone. The film is interspersed with actual footage of Kennedy's assassination, his funeral, and Oswald's subsequent assassination.
Yes. Two books, in fact: (1) On the Trail of the Assassins (1988) by Jim Garrison, and (2) Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy (1989) by former newspaper journalist Zachary Sklar and American 'conspiracy' writer Jim Marrs. The books were adapted for the film by professor of journalism at the Columbia School of Journalism and American film-maker Oliver Stone (who also directed the movie).
The film was based upon a real court case that took place in New Orleans in the late 1960s. Jim Garrison, a New Orleans District Attorney, charged Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones), a local businessman and civic leader, with conspiracy in the death of president John Kennedy. The jury acquitted Shaw almost immediately, and the case was actually seen as something of a shambles. Some of the characters in JFK are fictional, including Willie O'Keefe (Kevin Bacon) and X (Donald Sutherland). However, some of the characters Stone presents are indeed based upon real people, including David Ferrie (Joe Pesci), Guy Bannister (Edward Asner), and of course Shaw and Garrison. Many scenes, including several flashbacks, were invented by Stone for creative reasons. Stone also invented or exaggerated many of the pieces of evidence shown in the film. The most famous of these is, perhaps, the gunfire from the grassy knoll. In one famous image, that is dubbed "badge man", a figure is purportedly visible behind the fence on the grassy knoll with a white blob near his one shoulder. Conspiracy theorists have suggested that this blob is smoke from a gun being fired. Stone included this idea in the film. However, when the time came to film the scene he was unable to find a period rifle that would produce visible smoke on camera and had to resort to having a crew member blow smoke from a bellows. Although there are differences between the books and the movie, the film presents the ideas laid forth in the books with a fair amount of accuracy.
The answer is both no and yes. In the sense that he agrees with the findings of Jim Garrison's investigation, NO. Stone has said many times the film is a "myth" or "counter-myth" and has readily acknowledged the controversial nature of not only Garrison's findings but also his investigation methods. He has also stated that the reason he used Garrison as his main character was not for historical accuracy but because in its broad strokes Garrison's character and story were very much in line with traditional heroic archetypes. In addition, Stone devoted a great deal of his time to personally researching the case, and he has no doubt come across the same refutations of Garrison's investigation that many others have seen. However, if you are referring to the film in its broad artistic strokes, then the answer is undoubtedly YES. The director has commented a great number of times about the effect Kennedy's assassination had on him personally, and how that event seemed to be either a turning point or catalyst for a great number of changes in the United States. Viewed through that lens, the film is not so much a standard potboiler or thrilling whodunit as it is a reflection of how the public's faith in their elected officials has been shattered.
Mr. X, as the character identifies himself, is loosely based on Col. Fletcher Prouty, who also served as advisor to the film. It was Prouty who claimed that NSAM 263 was proof that JFK was withdrawing from Vietnam. The claim that NSAM 273 signed by Lyndon Johnson did not include the 1000 troop withdrawal (as included in NSAM 263) is false. Inspection of NSAM 273 dated 11/21/63 reveals this: '2.The objectives of the United States with respect to the withdrawal of U.S. military personnel remain as stated in the White House statement of October 2, 1963. Note that NSAM 273 is dated the day before Kennedy was assassinated, and "the President" here is JFK. So, NSAM 273 was issued UNDER the Kennedy Administration and signed by LBJ.
When Jim Garrison meets Mr.X at the Lincoln Memorial, Mr.X claims that when he was chief of Special Operations (specifically 'black ops') and that he was instructed by a certain 'General Y' (his boss) to go to the South Pole as the military escort for a group of international VIP's. He goes on to say this was done because, if he was present in Washington, one of his routine duties would have been to arrange additional security in Texas, which would interfere with the 'conspirators' plans to kill the President. Who is this General Y? In the movie-- according to the screenplay: "The status of Y is only clear by the sign on the desk, the name blocked by a passing figure." The name is General Edward Lansdale. But by the start of November 1963 Lansdale had already retired, and could not have received such an order from him even if Mr.X was involved with Presidential Security (which he was not; as Mr. X is based largely on Fletcher Prouty, it is known that Prouty was not at any time required to provide Presidential Security or privy to Secret Service information). Mr.X's claim that the '112th Military Intelligence Group at Fort Sam Houston was ordered to stand down that day' is also unverified. In fact, the 112th did provide protection for the motorcade. Colonel Robert E. Jones (Operations Officer of the 112th Military Intelligence group from June 1963-January 1965), when questioned by the HSC, said that people were provided for Security in San Antonio and Dallas. He never mentioned any instruction to 'stand down' as Mr.X said.
Another composite character in the movie, and one of the real life characters on which he is based, happens to be Perry Raymond Russo. Russo claimed he attended a party at Dave Ferrie's New Orleans apartment where a Clay 'Bertrand' and Oswald was present, and there they discussed the plot to kill JFK by 'triangulation of crossfire'.
David Ferrie came into the conspiracy as a result of Jack S. Martin's (Jack Lemmon) accusation that Ferrie was seen with Lee Harvey Oswald. It is known that Martin held a grudge against Ferrie. In the movie, a claim is made that Ferrie's name keeps 'popping up' among Oswald's associates, but not a single person claimed to have seen Oswald and Ferrie together that summer in New Orleans. Martin also claimed that Ferrie may have hypnotized Oswald into killing the president, among various other misleading and often spiteful information regarding Ferrie.
At the end the movie says 'Richard Helms, a director of covert operations in 1963, admitted under oath that CLAY SHAW had worked for the CIA'. What Richard Helms really said was this: 'one time, as a businessman, [Clay Shaw] was one of the part-time contacts of the Domestic Contact Division'. Claw Shaw worked at Trade Mart, and Shaw--and many other people--were required to report to the CIA's Domestic Contact Service (DCS) in New Orleans. Shaw was one of literally thousands of US citizens debriefed each year about their travels and contacts abroad by the DCS. He was never a contract agent, and thus was never paid. All the information he gave to DCS can now be found at the National Archives.
Garrison couldn't get any other people other than Russo to identify Clay Shaw as Clay Bertrand (even then, Russo's claims were made under hypnosis!), and though Garrison scoured the area for potential witnesses he could find none (Jim Garrison's method was to make up a theory, then find people to back the theory). The name Bertrand was largely a figment of Dean Andrews' (John Candy) vivid imagination; he was known to be a lad who had a penchant for making up tall tales and delivering them in attractive lingo. During the time he claimed he got the call from a 'Bertrand' to represent Oswald, he was down with pneumonia, in a state of delirium and heavily sedated in Hotel Dieu Hospital.
Again, no conclusive evidence to prove this. In the movie there is a scene where the officer booking Clay Shaw asks for aliases, and Clay Shaw replies 'Clay Bertrand'. In reality, this never happened. Clay Shaw did not at any time admit using an alias. In a booking procedure such as this, a field arrest form would be supplied to the booking officer that would include any aliases used by the arrestee; which raises the questions:
1.) Why would Officer Habighorst need to question the arrestee when all the information was supplied to him? 2.) Why would an alleged covert CIA field agent divulge his secret identity without hesitation? Further evidence contrary to Officer Habighorst's claim comes from Sgt. Jonas Butzman who was assigned to guard Shaw during the booking who said that Habighorst did not question Shaw and that the name 'Bertrand' was never spoken.
In the movie, Stone shows the infamous 'LIFE' photo (Feb. 21, 1964) of Oswald being doctored, that is, Oswald's head being pasted on somebody else's body; another piece of mere fictitious theorizing. LIFE's artists routinely outlined parts of the photo to clarify detail, such as the rifle. Oswald's wife Marina has also testified she took two photos, including this one. The Warren Commission investigators have one of the negatives. Experts have studied the photos and their grain structure, coming to the conclusion that the photos were not doctored in any way.
JFK misleadingly presents the myth that Kennedy planned to pull out of Vietnam. The main point comes in the form the National Security Action Memorandum 263 JFK issued to the joint chiefs of staff including his plans to withdraw from Vietnam. Conspiracists point to the 1,000 man troop withdrawal in NSAM 263 as evidence that Kennedy was going to withdraw. But does the document as a whole suggest that U.S. policy makers had resigned themselves to a Communist victory or that they rather intended to defeat the Communist insurgency? South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem was cracking down internal dissidents, and it was sending the country into chaos. In fear that this would help the Communist insurgents, Kennedy conceived of bringing home one thousand of the sixteen thousand American military advisers as a way of prodding Diem into behaving more leniently. Said JFK: Its aim was to "indicate our displeasure" with Diem and "create significant uncertainty" in him "as to the future intentions of the United States." This is hardly proof that JFK was withdrawing completely from Vietnam.
Yes, but the quote is misleadingly taken out of context to further the suggestion that Lyndon Johnson was a warmonger. Stone got this quote from Stanley Karnow's book ('Vietnam: A History '), and the author has suggested that the line was indeed said during a late1963 White House reception to Joint Chiefs of Staff. But, the author claims that this was an example of LBJ giving different promises to different factions; LBJ was hoping to placate the brass so he could rally their conservative allies on Capitol Hill behind his liberal social agenda. At the same time, according to author Stanley Karnow, LBJ was also suggesting to members of Congress who were hesitant about Vietnam that he had no intention of getting immersed in that "damn pissant little country". Oliver Stone, in order to portray LBJ as a Southern-bred, drawling warmonger, lifted the quote out of context.
During the final court trail, Garrison says of a man who had a seizure in Dealey Plaza: 'The epileptic later vanished, never checking into the hospital'. Well, he did not exactly 'vanish' as Stone says, but was located by the FBI on March 26, 1964, where he identified himself as Jerry Belknap, an epileptic who had suffered seizures since childhood. He was actually taken to the Parkland Hospital after the seizure but left without registering because he felt better after being given a glass of water and an aspirin. Also, he realized his chances of seeing a doctor was slim after seeing the President's motorcade pull into the hospital.
In the movie, Garrison says the man pumping the umbrella during the motorcade is actually signaling the shooters to 'keep shooting' ('He's not dead. Keep shooting.')--thus incriminating him in the 'conspiracy' to kill the president. This so-called 'Umbrella Man', as he is known among the CT community, was identified by the House Select Committee for assassinations in 1978 as Louie Steven Witt. It is interesting to note that when questioned by the committee as to why he had an umbrella with him, he said he bought it along to heckle the President's motorcade. Witt had heard that the umbrella was a 'sore spot' with the Kennedy family and he used it as a right wing protest against what he perceived as Kennedy's "softness" on communism. The symbolism came from Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler, where cartoonists portrayed Britain being shielded by Chamberlain's trademark umbrella. Before WWII, Joseph Kennedy was Ambassador to England; he encouraged Chamberlain's efforts, and was thus accused of being a Hitler appeaser; Lyndon Johnson once called Joe Kennedy "a Chamberlain umbrella man". So, it was not a sinister cue as portrayed in the film, but a political gesture intended to irk the President. None of this is revealed in the film. It also seems unlikely that a professional assassination team would use a man standing in plain view and doing something as odd as repeatedly opening and closing an umbrella on a sunny day as a secret signal. The assassin(s) would also have a much better vantage point with which to determine Kennedy's condition than someone standing along the parade route, and using the umbrella as a signal would require another member of the shooting team to watch Witt and wait for his signal.
This has been one of the most asked questions, since it was made known publicly in 1972 that the president's brain was missing from the National Archives. Conspiracy Theorists hastily assume that this was part of the massive cover-up--since the 'disappearance' of Kennedy's brain would conveniently stop people from finding out where the gunshots originated. But following investigations have revealed that all roads lead to ROBERT KENNEDY (RFK); after the brain had been photographed and x-rayed Bobby had requested it to be turned over to him. According to a family spokesman, he did not tell other family members what he did with these parts of his brother's body. It is fairly assumed that he buried it along with JFK's body.
As Vice President, Lyndon Baines Johnson ascended to the Presidency upon JFK's death. As such he was one of the people who benefited most directly from the shooting. Since most conspiracy theories involve some sort of government collusion in Kennedy's assassination, they require a high-placed government official to be behind them, and LBJ would fit the bill. Also, most conspiracy theories posit the desire of the "military industrial complex" to escalate the Vietnam War as being the motive behind the assassination. LBJ ended up radically escalating the US involvement in Vietnam into a full blown war. For members of the anti-war movement at the time, Johnson became something of a villain, as expressed in the chant "Hey Hey LBJ, how man kids did you kill today!"The public personae of JFK and LBJ also marked them as different men in the public imagination of the time. JFK was a young, handsome, and charming playboy. A political moderate, JFK flirted with issues like Civil Rights but took little radical action during his times. After his death a lot of people remembered his administration fondly and many people were able to attribute whatever ideas they wanted to JFK. For many people, including conspiracy theorists, this included the idea that JFK would have gotten us out of Vietnam. At the time of his death Vietnam was just one front in the US war against communism and not that important to the American public. A few years later Vietnam had become the biggest foreign policy issue for the country and had provoked massive public protests. In this atmosphere it was comforting for many to think that Kennedy, the martyred President, would have removed US forces. In contrast, LBJ was a much more prickly personality. He was famous in the Senate for browbeating people into submission. As an old school Southern politician, Johnson was often more comfortable with the nuts and bolts of politics than with the high flying symbolism of the Kennedy era. At the same time, Johnson had a much more radical agenda than Kennedy did. His Great Society and Civil Rights programs sought major changes in American society and provoked significant discord from those who disapproved of them. In addition, Johnson escalated the war in Vietnam, a decision which ultimately doomed his administration when the war became unpopular with the country at large.
Conspiracy theorists generally claim that some or all of the shots that hit JFK, particularly the fatal shot, came from the grassy knoll. This is seen in the courtroom scene where Garrison demonstrates JFK's head going "back and to the left". There is a photo, dubbed "Badge Man" which conspiracy theorists claim shows a faint image of a man behind the fence of the grassy knoll. The man appears to have a bright patch on his chest, like a badge (hence the name) and has a white blob obscuring part of his face. Conspiracy theorists claim that this image is of a man in some kind of law enforcement uniform shooting a gun at JFK and that the white blob is smoke from the gunshot. However, when Stone went to film the scene he was unable to find a gun from the time which would produce enough visible smoke to show up on camera. So he had a production staffer blow smoke from a bellows to simulate it.
The Warren Commission postulates that there were three shots fired at Kennedy that day. The first shot missed entirely ( on the zapruder film you can see some people seem to react to something unseen at one point and some suggest that this is people reacting to the first gunshot). The third shot was a head shot which killed Kennedy. The Warren Commission claims that the second shot caused all the non fatal wounds on Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally. Conspiracy theorists, who generally believe that more than three shots were fired, derisively labeled the idea the "magic bullet theory" out of a belief that no one shot could have caused the multiple wounds to the two men. We see Garrison demonstrating the conspiracy theorist's claims in the courtroom scene. In this scene Garrison describes a bullet which would have to zig zag in seemingly impossible ways in order to create all the wounds. Conspiracy theorists claim that this unlikely trajectory proves that the wounds were created by more than one bullet and thus that there was more than one shooter.However, the conspiracy theorist's view of the "magic bullet" relies on improper positioning of the two men. The scene in the courtroom shows how conspiracy theorists generally align Kennedy and Connally in describing the bullet's trajectory. In that scene the two men are both seated at the same level and are directly in front of each other and facing forward. However, this is not how the two men were sitting when they were shot. Connally was sitting in a jump seat in the limo. As such he was somewhat towards the interior of the car and significantly lower than Kennedy was. If you look at the Zapruder film you can see how low Connally is sitting as he appears shorter than Kennedy when in fact he was the taller man. In addition, Connally had begun to turn slightly by the time of the second shot, perhaps reacting to the sound of the first one. If you align the men properly then the wounds all could have been caused by one shot. In addition, when you put them in their proper position on the street and track the path of the second shot back towards its source you arrive at the corner of the Texas Schoolbook Depository where Oswald's snipers nest was found.
X criticizes the Secret Service for what he characterizes as unusually lax security on Kennedy's motorcade route. He asserts that normal secret service policy was relaxed allowing the assassination to occur. In particular he criticizes the people watching from windows and the lack of a "bubble top" on the Presidential limousine. While the Secret Service may have made some mistakes, the idea of airtight Presidential security which X puts forth, or of a nefarious conspiracy to leave Kennedy unguarded is false. Aside from keeping the President imprisoned in the White House there can be no airtight Presidential security. Any time the President goes out in public he is potentially vulnerable. The Secret Service takes efforts to reduce his vulnerability but this is not perfect. Indeed, Kennedy himself commented presciently that there was very little the Secret Service could do to protect him from a determined assassin with a gun. The secret service simply cannot search every person at a public event. Indeed, even after the Kennedy assassination there were two cases where would be assassins were able to get close to Presidents and fire guns at them.With regards to X's specific accusations, the route was chosen by the White House, not by the Secret Service. Contrary to X's assertion the large number of windows along the route was not viewed as a liability and was not the result of a conspiracy looking to provide vantage points for assassinations. Rather the White House viewed the large number of buildings with a view of the route as a benefit. These buildings allowed more people to be able to see the Presidential motorcade as it passed. The entire point of the motorcade was to cultivate goodwill by allowing people to see the President. X also criticizes the secret service for not using the "bubble top". This was a clear plastic roof that could be attached to the limousine when the normal roof was retracted. However, the bubble top was never meant to protect the President from gunfire. Instead it was meant to protect him from the weather, such as rain. Since it was a sunny day on November 22nd there was no reason to use the bubble top and since it was not designed to be bullet proof there's no evidence that it would have protected Kennedy even if it had been used.
Stone created a Directors Cut in favor of a home-cinema version, which contained over 16 minutes of new footage adding up to the already over three hour lasting movie of the theatrical screening. In America, only this new version is available on DVD and Blue-Ray, while e.g. in Germany and the UK, the theatrical screening was released on DVD, too. Like it is the case with the entire film, the new scenes are obviously full of dialogues. A few of the contacts of Lee Harvey Oswalds past are introduced more thoroughly in the Directors cut which thus reasonably deepens the background information. This can also be said of the team of agent Jim Garrison, as here, among other things, the tensions between Bill and Lou along with the corruption of the former become a lot more intelligible. Moreover, Jim appears in the public for one time and extensive interrogations of witnesses can be seen. Eventually, the text box before the closing credits is worth mentioning: It points out the impact of the theatrical screening which logically was not possible to show within the cinema-version itself. Alongside with these extensions, rather unobtrusive alternative footage has often been used at extended passages, such as varying takes which trigger new scenes in the first place. One scene has been shifted in a slightly changed form for about a few minutes. What could theoretically be regarded as editing, too, are the two witness interviews and one scene set in a telephone booth whereas the DC shows this scene explicitly, the theatrical screening contains it only at different passages in form of short establishing shots. A detailed comparison between both versions with pictures can be found here.
Oswald qualified as a sharpshooter in the US Marine Corps. "Sharpshooter," however, does not have the same connotation in the military world as it does in the civilian. "Sharpshooter" is the second level of proficiency attainable in marksman training. It does not apply to snipers specifically, and does not mean that Oswald was a crack shot with a cheap rifle that he bought from a mail-order catalog. On the other hand, it also doesn't mean he had "Maggie's Drawers," as mentioned in the film. Because "sharpshooter" is a designation achieved by many in the armed forces with proper training, Oswald could be considered an "average shot" among his peers. All other information regarding whether Oswald could or could not make the shots involving the President is speculation.
After Oswald killed officer Tippett he ducked into a nearby shop in order to avoid the dozens of police officers flooding the area. The shopkeeper became suspicious of his behaviour and after he left the shop approached Dallas Police who realized that Oswald matched the description of the shooter. Oswald had ducked into a movie theater to hide. A theater employee informed the cops about a man who had come in without paying. The gun recovered from him was submitted for forensic tests revealing his fingerprints on it and that it had been used to kill Tippett.
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