Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> Nixon (1995) >>

Masculinity in Stone's Nixon

By Mehnaz Ara Choudhury

I. Introduction

When President Nixon was leaving the White House, Henry Kissinger comforted him by saying, "History will treat you kindly," to which Nixon replied, "That depends on who writes the history" (Hamburg xiv).

[1] Watching Oliver Stone's Nixon (1995) and the director's earlier film JFK (1991), it is difficult to have kind thoughts about Richard Nixon. Stone's investment in the figure of the president manifests itself in two ways: first, in the director's fixation on Nixon as a symbol of the corrupt political landscape after President John Kennedy's assassination, and, second, his fixation on Nixon as a symbol of a failed patriarch or an ineffective father figure who led the country into further turmoil. Stone has argued that he hoped to elicit sympathy for Nixon, but I will show that the director's emphasis on Nixon as an epic tragedy, especially in conjunction with the Beast thesis, does not allow for sympathy or understanding of the man or his politics.

[2] My analysis primarily focuses on Stone's film Nixon, but it is noteworthy to mention JFK, since both films were embroiled in heated debates regarding historical authenticity and artistic license. In JFK, Stone pieces together several conspiracy theories as to who was responsible for President Kennedy's assassination from "real" primary texts, news footage, ear and eye witnesses, and the Zapruder film, among others. In Nixon, Stone uses similar techniques to posit equally troubling theses: the first that Nixon, while Vice President, was involved in a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro, and, second, that Nixon was directly or inadvertently responsible for the deaths of John and Robert Kennedy. Stone elects to create scenes and embellish information but defends his mixing of fact and speculation: "Of course, there's license and speculation, but they are based on reasonable assumptions which we've discussed with highly reliable technical advisers who lived through the history we're recounting in the film" (Monsel 206).

[3] Regardless of historical inaccuracies, it is valuable to analyze how Stone constructs Nixon's personae, as well as the epic thesis of the "Beast" in American politics, because, through both, Stone deconstructs the American ideology of the ideal man, as well as the "American dream" of success.

II. American Capitalist Ideology and Marketing of Nixon and JFK.

[4] The marketable nature of Stone's controversy is elaborated in the ideologies he chooses to emphasize and the "whitewashing" of particular historical facts that are shown in Nixon. The tag line for Nixon was "He had greatness within his grasp," while the tag line for JFK was "He's a District Attorney. He will risk his life, the lives of his family, everything he holds dear for the one he holds sacred... the truth." The difference between both slogans, as well as their corresponding poster advertisements, illustrates Stone's attitudes towards both presidents. Stone sees JFK as the shining beacon of hope signaling a renewal for America, while Nixon symbolizes the loss of this hope, as well as the nation's innocence and faith in their government. The poster for Nixon shows half of Anthony Hopkins' face, while, to his right, the White House and Capitol appear under dark and stormy clouds. Hopkins' troubled and dour expression further stand in sharp contrast to our memory of the handsome and honest expression of the real president Kennedy, while the dark D.C. skyline further emphasizes the secrecy and doom that Stone associates with the Nixonian White House. For Stone, the dark cloud represents the "beast" that is slowly enveloping America. Later in Nixon, we see Howard Hunt (Edward Harris), a Watergate burglar, tell John Dean (David Hyde Pierce), the White House Counsel, that Richard Nixon "is the darkness reaching out for the darkness." Stone argues, then, that Nixon is both a symptom of an already corrupt system but also the cause of the "darkness" that is enveloping the American political landscape.

[5] In the JFK poster, Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), the attorney who brought the charges against businessman Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) for alleged conspiracy against the President, is shown along with Lee Harvey Oswald in an American Flag that has been torn apart. The poster for the film can be read as Stone attempting to "correct" the government's agenda, showing Garrison in a swath of red and Oswald in a swath of blue with white stripes over his head. We can read the flag as symbolizing the forces in the government that "covered" the truth. But Stone is also attempting to show (in the poster and film) that Oswald is just another innocent, "a patsy" akin to Garrison and the American people, who are all at the mercy of the American government. JFK also creates clear lines in the film: the "truth" that Garrison stands for is that his white, patriarchal world is under threat by not only a corrupt government but a "gay cabal" run by Clay Shaw. In both Nixon and JFK, Stone connects the "beast" to homosexuality: from Clay Shaw and his cohorts as well as the corrupt agents of the government, to Herbert Hoover (Bob Hoskins) the gay director of the FBI. Stone parades these characters like a circus freak show: showing Shaw and his associates involved in an S&M masquerade party, tweaking nipples, and sniffing cocaine, while Hoover is shown in "freak-show close-up" lecherously hitting on a pool boy and compared to a crazed horse who is foaming at the mouth. In JFK, Stone wants to "present a counter-myth" to the "official myth" of the Warren Commission Report but decides to do so in typical Hollywood fashion, by making the gay villains and government villains faceless others and by allowing Garrison's character a large degree of complexity that they are not privileged with (Toplin 66-67).

[6] Stone has stressed numerous times that he wanted to sympathetically represent Nixon's persona, but his association with Herbert Hoover who is represented so negatively does not allow the viewer to do this. We see Nixon at the horse races with Hoover, and the FBI director tells him that Robert Kennedy must be " order to save the country." During this scene a black horse is shown bucking, the whites of his eyes showing both his fear and uncontrollability. The horse foams and the white spit falls away from his face in long lines. Nixon tells Hoover that he wants to fight "just as dirty" as Bobby Kennedy, and Hoover reminds him "that the system can only take so much abuse, it will adjust itself eventually." He adds that "there are savage outbursts," and as he rants the horse continues to buck and foam behind him. Hoover tells Nixon that "he can count on his support as long as he can count on his" and places his hand on Nixon's. Nixon is uncomfortable with the intimate gesture but attempts a futile smile that fails. Hoover's reference to the "system" or the beast and the imagery connected with it extends Stone's images of the gay cabal controlling the government. Stone connects the "savage outbursts" to Hoover's comment about MLK "fucking women left and right like an animal," while the horse's black face stands in stark contrast to the white foam on his lips. The [deviant] sexual imagery connects not only to blacks but to homosexuals when Hoover touches Nixon's arm, and Stone emphasizes that the threat to the nation is because of a failed patriarch who is feminizined by his association with the homosexual Hoover.

[7] Horror films tend to create monsters such as Michael Myers and Freddie Kruger from young boys or mean janitors, people we see as background noise in our lives. This supposedly unnerves the audience more--to think that these "monsters" should otherwise be trusted, cannot be. Stone, whose directorial debut was with the horror film The Hand, tries to use a similar formula in Nixon especially in terms of representing authority figures such as Hoover. However, I believe he fails because both gay cabals in Nixon and JFK are simply alien others run amuck; they are operating among us, we are told, and we haven't even noticed.

[8] Oscar Wilde once wrote, "the one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it," and no one has taken this maxim to heart as much as Stone. I agree with a large number of the new history critics that history is subjective and there is no one essential truth that can encapsulate experience, a theory that Stone strives towards but never seems to hit on completely in his film. He reminds us in an interview for the The Advocate that he had to show Jim Garrison in a rosier light than his enemies in the government to get his points across, and, also, Stone added there was evidence from Hoover's files on Shaw that he had painted himself in gold, taken part in orgies, and used drugs at different points in his life (Yarbrough ). Stone seems complicit, however, in the very system of "myth-making" that he wishes to criticize. His project is to convince us we have been "lied to all along," yet his methods, which he sees as his right to artistic license, are lies necessary to get his point across. I do not wish to censor Stone; I simply consider his "othering" of the government as faceless evildoers similar to the Warren Commission's "othering" of Lee Harvey Oswald as a foreign, crazed gunman.

[9] Stone's "othering" of the queer conspirators is extremely problematic because they are the only "faces" given to the evil conspirators, which makes the conspirators doubly culpable, first for killing the president and second for being gay. In The Advocate, Stone asks should he not be allowed to ever show any member of a disadvantaged group, such as black or gay, in a bad light due to "sensitivities" (Yarbrough). The point is well taken, however, when certain disadvantaged groups are continually depicted as homicidal or morally repugnant, and I believe Stone should have shown some degree of responsibility in presenting certain characters in his film. He tells The Advocate, "at that time in New Orleans, I bet most of the gay underground knew the others in the underground," which the interviewer rightly calls a stereotype of the gay community and echoes what the real Jim Garrison ranted about Clay Shaw, "Queers know queers! They've got a clique better than the CIA." He could have made the "evil-doers" more 3-D instead of comic-book villains; however, he chose to depict them in a stereotypically negative manner. To say that Stone is simply reflecting the public's "consciousness or unconsciousness" about queers reduces the power of his position as an artist whose goal with the movie was to create a forum for open dialogue and more information.

[10] Stone commented that "the best I can do is to present a hypothesis that will hopefully encourage people to move away from the Warren Report and maybe read some books or at least to question the concept of our government's covert operations" (Toplin 66-67). In "Who Defines History," Stone's rebuttal to the media dogging him about his films' inaccuracies or excesses, he reminds us that there is no "accepted, settled, respected, carefully thought-out, and researched body of history about the assassination" and asks "must one be a distorter of history to question?" (Stone 23). Considering that Stone has been described as "part poet, part provocateur [and] part snake-oil salesman," I find his above opinions extremely relevant in supporting the notion that history is subjective. FDR described America as an "unfinished product," thus historical films show the values embedded in our institutions and laws as the ethical roots of democracy. Whether or not we affirm those values in the dark spaces of a theatre, we often fail to live up to them in the real world. This presents the unfortunate picture that Americans, as "unfinished product(s)" themselves, can use the information presented on screen as compasses for our values, meaning things we strive towards, instead of things that we are. Stone writes that JFK's end dedication "to the youth of America" is "in the hopes that the young will go back into the case and find the truth, or make the government release the files, all the files, and -- and at least come to--so that we can come to terms with a--with a tragedy that has affected that last 28 years of our lives and our generation." I would argue that the above explanation regarding the role of historical film ignores the possibility that the values extolled by them are often not positive and may not adhere to the ideal of a shared "universal notion of human rights." I find evidence of this in JFK when female characters such as a member of Garrison's team or his wife are shown as characters of no consequence, or when queer characters are shown in a purposefully negative way.

III. American Masculine Ideology

Lives of great men oft' reminds us,
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us,
Footprints in the sands of time.
-Longfellow, "Psalm of Life."
(Poem given to Richard Nixon by his grandmother Almira Milhous.)

[11] The question we need to ask when we see a historically inaccurate film such as JFK or Nixon isn't just "Who is to blame for certain ideological messages?" but "Whose responsibility is it to correct negative ones," which I believe mirrors Stone's hopes for his film -- that it be used as a vehicle to begin questioning certain myths in America's history. For Nixon or JFK to succeed in a classroom discussion, scholars must address the myth-making Stone participates in when depicting President Kennedy's administration. The latter, I believe, is connected to Stone's former goal but also reflects my frustration that Kennedy's assassination and our fixation on it are the workings of a generation trapped in a nostalgic frame of mind for an America that is supposedly "seamless" or "perfect: the greatest nation in the world, and the embodiment of democracy, freedom, and technological progress" (Fitzgerald 4). Stone and others like him took to heart Kennedy's message in his Inauguration speech:

Let the word go forth from this time and place to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

[12] Both Nixon and JFK emphasize that the post-Kennedy America "is evil, sick beyond recovery and decadent beyond redemption," while the pre-Kennedy America (minus the oppression of the 50's) was the vision of idealism and democratic ideal (Collier 29). Stone said in various interviews that "tragically [Kennedy's] progressive humanitarian objectives sealed his doom" because he "passionately sought détente abroad and an end of racist apartheid at home" (Collier 29). In JFK, Stone depicts a "white lamb" president surrounded by Brutus's and Judas's, when Mr. X., a composite character, tells Garrison:

I think it started in the wind. Money, arms, big oil, Pentagon people, contractors, bankers, politicians like L.B.J. were committed to a war in Southeast Asia. As early as '61 they knew Kennedy was going to change things ... He was not going to war in Southeast Asia. Who knows? Probably some boardroom or lunchroom somewhere - Houston, New York - hell, maybe Bonn, Germany ... who knows, it's international now.

[13] Senator Russell Long comments to Garrison on a plane ride that Kennedy's death is a tragedy that allowed the escalation of the war in Vietnam and will lead to more problems: "Yessir, you mark my words, Jim, Vietnam's gonna cost Johnson '68 and it's gonna put that other varmint Nixon in -- then watch your hide, 'cause there ain't no offramps on a freeway to Hell!" Stone is suggesting here, as he does in numerous places, that Kennedy's assassination set off a chain of events leading to President Richard Nixon's election, which the members of the audience will recognize as a disastrous political event, further emphasizing that "nothing good" came out of the assassination. It was Kennedy, however, who demonstrated America's commitment to South Vietnam by increasing the number of military advisers from 700 to 15,000 and ordering them into combat. He did say that "in the final analysis it is their [South Vietnam's] war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send out our men as advisers, but they have to win it, the people of Vietnam." But Robert Kennedy, a member of Kennedy's cabinet, did not believe that his brother would have gotten the country out of Vietnam. In an interview for the Kennedy Library in 1964, RFK commented that his brother's attitude towards the war "was a strong, overwhelming reason for being in Vietnam" and the belief "that we should win." When asked if his brother had intended to pull out, Bobby answered "No" (Collier 30).

[14] In JFK, Oliver Stone's reel-life counterpart in the film, the "real-life" lawyer, Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), tells us:

We have all become Hamlets in our country -- children of a slain father-leader whose killers still possess the throne. The ghost of John F. Kennedy confronts us with the secret murder at the heart of the American dream. He forces on us the appalling questions: Of what is our Constitution made? What is our citizenship, and more, our lives worth? What is the future of a democracy where a President can be assassinated under conspicuously suspicious circumstances while the machinery of legal action scarcely trembles?
For Stone, here JFK is a "slain father leader," and Nixon is the failed father and a symptom of the breakdown of America and its political system. That moment signals for Garrison, as it does for Stone, an American apocalypse, as shown by Jim Garrison's tirade to Mr. X, a CIA informant:
Just think ... just think. What happened to our country ... to the world ... because of that murder ... Vietnam, racial conflict, breakdown of law, drugs, thought control, guilt, assassinations, secret government fear, of the frontier ...
Stone himself has commented, "And it [Kennedy's assassination] changed the course of our lives and time forever. And it's hard to get back, because once you've lost that spot of innocence, perhaps, that you had when Kennedy got killed and then Nixon performed his acts, his sinister designs, all that shaped us to the way we are now. You too. I'm -- we're all shaped by it. Life became what it did in America as a result of that, and that's what's fascinating" (Kreisler, Part III). Several historians and critics have charged that Stone's views of America are a result of a paranoid fixation on conspiracy, however; for Stone, who was a Vietnam veteran, it is possible to understand why he imagines Nixon to be such an enigmatic figure, since President Nixon was the architect of escalating conflict in Vietnam.

[15] Much more murky than the Vietnam hypothesis is the civil rights issues raised by JFK. When recreating news footage after Kennedy's shooting, Stone shows a black woman commenting "it's all so terrible. I jes' can't stop crying. He did so much for this country, for colored people." We see several black characters mourning for JFK, including Garrison's maid and a young black father and son at the Kennedy memorial. To argue that it was a "myth" that Kennedy meant a lot to black people is still open to debate. According to the historical record, it was Robert Kennedy who showed real action in the civil rights movement. It was he who worked to obtain the release of Martin Luther King, after the latter was jailed in his participation in a march in Georgia. However, Stone not only shows Kennedy aiding the civil rights movement but responsible for its growth. Mr. X's comment to Garrison, "What happened to our country, to the world, because of that murder: Vietnam, racial conflict, breakdown of law, drugs, thought control," shows that Kennedy's death for Stone signals the beginning of the end of the world and the end of the "American Dream." Stone does show Garrison walking away with his wife and son at the end of the film, emphasizing, as critic Robin Wood writes, that "America is...the land where everything can work out, no matter how radical the change must be for the problem to be solved" (Wood 200). The institution of the white, patriarchal family and an extension of the capitalistic ownership principle (my wife, my family, my truth, my country) remain intact. However, the whitewashing of the President and Garrison as benign figures of moral solidarity and the denigration of the government and several queer conspirators as malevolent is a lie that Stone finds necessary to tell the public in order to convince them of a truth he possesses.

[16] The implications of this problem are best summarized by Peter Collier in his article "Ollie Uber Alles." In his rebuttal to Stone's assertion that history and art don't necessarily have to meet eye to eye, Collier writes, "and for those who reply that history should be irrelevant to art, it might be pointed out that in this case art ought to refrain from calling for the reopening of history's sealed files. [Stone] wants to break it down and reconstitute it, not as a warning or even a lesson, but as a blunt instrument" (Collier 30). Stone's posturing as a "concerned citizen" should have created a product that exercised more responsibility; however, I don't see Stone's ideological messages resulting in a "lost opportunity"; instead, they create a "learning opportunity." What is wrong with demanding that more of Nixon's White House tapes by transcribed and be made open to the public? Stone does show his awareness that what he has created is, as I asserted before, "marketable controversy" when he says "mainstream thinking goes further in the long term....If you subtly change mainstream thinking bit by bit, you'll go farther." The ideological shadows created by Stone's mainstream thinking in JFK and Nixon, such as representations of homosexuality, can be addressed "bit by bit" in a classroom setting.

IV. The Beast

[17] Many critics including Robert Toplin would argue that Oliver Stone's films interrogated issues of Hollywood's responsibility to represent "History" responsibly. I would like to highlight a scene from Nixon that will help answer the question, is Oliver Stone's Nixon a "lost opportunity?" (Toplin 44). Many critics saw the film as a "lost opportunity" historically since Stone must fill in gaps of intimate conversations, suggest motives for certain actions, and use real footage alongside "reel" ones -- but I consider the film a lost opportunity for other reasons. It is not possible to get to the "true" Richard Nixon, but for Stone Nixon doesn't appear to be a real person but simply an embodiment of an American masculine ideology. Stone describes him as "embody[ing] everything that's right and wrong about America in general and American politicians in particular," which he connects to the notion of a "Beast" infiltrating government (Hamburg xvii ). He adds, "Nixon is about the illusion of power" and a "giant of a tragic figure in the classical Greek or Shakespearean tradition." The director seems so intent in creating a "a giant...tragic figure" that at times he defeats his purpose of casting Nixon in a more humane, complex, and compelling light that would challenge Nixon's detractors who have typecast him only as "Tricky Dick."

[18] It is largely for audience satisfaction that Stone wishes to depict Nixon in such an "epic" scope. His ideologies and the theses that his film puts forward must also be presented in an epic scope, such as the notion of the "Beast" controlling the machinations of government or the suggestion of dark demons of repression and guilt that haunted the President. John Dean says that the film is not an "anti-Nixon polemic," an assertion that is only partially right. The film does not mean to become an "anti-Nixon polemic," but in the end it does not succeed in creating a complex portrait of the president. It is surprising that Stone discusses his character by saying "we empathized with him and made him better than he was" (Bingham 273), because in a pivotal scene in the film Stone does not succeed in showing the real "systems, ambitions and ideologies" that motivate him, nor does it "connect the inner man to his external reactions and decisions" (Bingham 259).

[19] The scene is based on a real event that took place on May 9, 1970, when Nixon decided on an impromptu visit to the Lincoln Memorial. President Nixon walks up the steps of the Memorial with his valet, Manolo. The steps are covered with sleeping bags and some scattered "campfires." As Nixon approaches the monument, the spectator can hear the opening lines of the Battle Hymn of the Republic: "He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword -- His truth is marching on." In the real incident Nixon did not just arrive at the monument with only his valet but was also accompanied by Secret Service men. Although this may seem inconsequential, the film suggests that Nixon's actions are irrational and the sign of a scattered mind. Nixon is so far-gone that he doesn't even think about his safety amid throngs of protestors.

[20] The scene also lays the groundwork for the "epic" Nixon. The Battle Hymn is both a song about god as well as a metaphor about President Lincoln and the Union troops battling the South, and Stone wants to emphasize Nixon's visit as part of the man's "obsession" with Lincoln, which was hinted at earlier in the film when we repeatedly see Nixon sitting in the Lincoln bedroom in the White House. The film does not emphasize any of the ways Nixon became "obsessed" with Lincoln and almost suggests that it is a travesty that Nixon believed he was facing issues similar to the great president. The words "He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword" do not resonate with spectators as the image of God punishing the South for the moral wrongs of slavery, but instead suggest Nixon's "terrible swift sword" descending on innocent Vietnamese who were killed in heavy air attacks.

[21] As Nixon looks at the statue, behind him the night sky is suddenly filled with daylight and the silhouette of a fiery explosion. During the scene, we hear more of the song: "I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps, They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps," followed by "I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps -- His day is marching on." The last line is punctuated by gunfire, and we see the president in an overhead shot from behind the shoulder of the statue of Lincoln. With the shot of the sky filled with fire, Stone implies that Nixon has forced American soldiers in Vietnam to "build Him an altar in the evening dews and damps," and Stone continues to force blame on him for the "crime" of the Vietnam War. In a swift montage, the camera cuts from Nixon to a black and white shot of a young civil war soldier and two more photographs of Civil War battle camps, accompanied by the lyrics, "I have read a fiery gospel writ, In burnished rows of steel," followed by color images of young soldiers in Vietnam, during which we hear, "As ye deal with My contemnors, So with you My grace shall deal." Next the camera shows Nixon turning around to face a murmuring crowd as we hear the final words of that stanza: "Let the Hero born of woman, Crush the serpent with His heel, Since God is marching on." Nixon finds himself faced by a group of young protestors in hippie clothes and unkempt hair.

[22] Is Stone suggesting that these protestors are "contemnors" or "serpents?" In a way, he is. If The Battle Hymn is a metaphor for Lincoln leading the Union to victory, here Stone suggests that Nixon's obsession with Lincoln implies Nixon believes that he is himself like Lincoln, but that he sees his own people as "serpents" that wish to subvert him. Nixon evokes the fact that his family went Republican after Lincoln freed the slaves as a metaphor for his own desires to topple communist aggression by freeing the Vietnamese. Clearly the protestors and Stone believe that both achievements are not the same.

[23] The Lincoln myth, which highlights a poor young man struggling until he becomes a small-town lawyer and fighting against the odds until he becomes president of the United States, is conflated with the events of Nixon's life. The complexities of the Lincoln myth, its connections with the notion of the "ideal male" as a virile adventurer and an untrammeled man of action is juxtaposed with earlier scenes in the film that focus on Nixon's childhood in Yorba Linda. We see a stern father who works hard but cannot support his family, a mother whose religious fanaticism appears alienating to her sons, and the desolate landscape of their California home and the lonely farmer's stand where the family works. All of these scenes subvert several facets of American capitalist ideology: Stone undercuts the Rosebud syndrome and the picture of the happy poor who are removed from the corrupting influence of money, showing Nixon as resentful of all facets of the elitist Eastern establishment such as Harvard and the Kennedy wealth. Stone also critiques the notion of honest toil as a morally admirable path to achieving the American dream. The barren landscape of Yorba Linda that Stone shows us earlier is juxtaposed with the image of Lincoln in his log cabin, but here the myth of the American West or the Virgin Land will not provide for the family's survival. The most important way in which Stone evokes the Lincoln myth and the beast conversation, however, is to emphasize that America is and cannot be the land in which all problems can be solved within the boundaries of the existing system. To show us Lincoln's image during the beast sequence further emphasizes that Nixon is a failed patriarch -- he did not bring America together after much bloodshed, and, as he morbidly jokes after Kennedy's assassination, "I bet if I was President they wouldn't have killed me." For Stone, Nixon's achievements are not up to par with the mythic Lincoln or the mythic Kennedy.

[24] A significant portion of the sequence focuses on the conversation Nixon has with a 19-year-old college student about the war. She confronts him with the statement, "what's the point of being president, you are powerless," and adds, "you can't stop it can you, even if you wanted to, it's not you, it's the system that won't let you stop it." He tells her that he can "control the system" and "tame it to make it do some good," and even agrees with her when she charges that Nixon sounds like he is talking about a wild animal. Sandwiched between two sharply edited montage sequences Stone articulates his vision of the Beast. Stone argues that the beast "grinds the individual down to meaninglessness" and "drives itself from 1.the power of money and markets; 2.state power, government power; 3. corporate power, which is probably greater even than state power; 4. the political process or election through money, which is therefore in tow to 'the system'; and, 5. the media, which mostly protects the status quo and their ownerships and interests like Doberman pinschers" (Kreisler, Part VI). All these beasts become a metaphor for a military industrial complex that is responsible for Kennedy's assassination and the escalation of the Vietnam War.

[25] Stone's beast argument contains another subversive message -- on one hand his comparison of Nixon to Lincoln and Kennedy sets up the first as a failed patriarch who further normalizes an oppressive standard of masculinity. It also points out a serious crack in the façade of the overly-masculine persona: the drive for violence that leads to catastrophes such as the Vietnam War. Upon returning to the United States from Vietnam, Stone was shocked by a divided nation and the belief that his government had lied to him and allowed the deaths of thousands of young men. Historian Stephen Ambrose accused Stone of making Nixon appear tougher than he really was and engaging in non-existent behaviors such as drinking and cursing heavily. However, Stone's purpose is deeper than just presenting the president in a bad light. Stone connects Nixon's physical inferiority to his experience on the Whittier College football team where the young Nixon acted as a "tackling dummy" because of a lack of athletic talent (Toplin 250).

[26] Stone also connects this inferiority complex to Nixon's "hard-nosed football analogies of a coach like George Allen of the Washington Redskins" or the fact that the President loved the movie Patton, starring George C. Scott who played General Patton (Toplin 250). Nixon would watch Patton numerous times before his invasion of Cambodia, and I believe that Stone connects Nixon's aggressive attempts at a masculine persona as resulting in the continuation of the Vietnam War. For Stone, the "mythology of manhood, and...the test of manhood signified...quite explicitly, the space in which sons confirm their authority with their fathers" (Boose 67). This mythology, as Lynda Boose asserts in her work Gendering War, is often achieved (especially in the American male psyche) by participating in war and results in what she calls techno-muscular war films such as Rambo and Excalibur. For Stone's Nixon, the Vietnam War becomes a way in which the president is able to enter the mythology of manhood that figures such as Lincoln and Patton signify; and, on a personal level, it is this same mythology that carried Stone to war. I would argue that Stone sees Nixon's techno-masculinity as another aspect of the "Beast" that corrupts the American landscape. Another critic rightly points out that Nixon encouraged the image of himself as a "fighter" against "enemies" of his administration (Bingham 260).

[27] I am not interested in the logic or truth of Stone's beast thesis. I am interested in the mythic scopes of the Beast argument and its use as a metaphor. When Nixon admits that he is trying to end the war, the girl charges that he can't stop it because it is out of his control. Images of his brother Arthur and Harold's suffering cut across the screen in black and white. Much like the suffering and death of his brothers from tuberculosis, the suffering and death of the young soldiers in Vietnam are not in Nixon's control. The beast has become a metaphor for "both the American body politic and Nixon's overwrought psyche -- with no real exploration of the horrible political landscape that produced politicians such as Richard Nixon" (Sharett). There is no real probing into Nixon's character that goes beyond a layman's understanding of psychoanalytical theory, but even with the stab at making him an epic figure, Stone doesn't succeed in creating a truly tragic hero. But why even attempt to paint Nixon in such a light? Stone's major argument becomes that in "undressing Nixon, we can undress and expose the 'truth' of America's supposedly innocent past" (Sharett). Although I don't believe that psychohistory should replace history, in a year where such jingoistic films about America's supposedly idyllic past such as The Alamo and Miracle have emerged, Stone's vision is a refreshing one. The whitewashing of President Kennedy as a benign figure of moral solidarity and the denigration of the government and several conspirators as malevolent is a lie that Stone finds necessary to tell the public in order to convince them of the truth of the "beast" controlling politics

[28] The most interesting manifestation of the Beast appears in a much-criticized and talked about deleted sequence that can be found on the 2003 edition of the DVD and video of Nixon. This scene is central to the two Beast sequences that appear in the film but was cut in an attempt to bring the film to an appropriate length. We see Nixon arrive at CIA headquarters, while the camera closes in on a tight shot of the CIA seal, gesturing to the secrecy that threatens the American landscape. Nixon meets with the director of the CIA, Richard Helms (Sam Waterston), and requests that he turn over papers that he signed to "chair a special operations group," referring to the secret plot to assassinate Castro. Helms adds, "It's not an operation, as much as an organic phenomenon." While Helms delicately fingers the petals of several lilies, he continues, "it grew, changed shape, it developed appetites, it's not unusual in such cases that things are not committed to paper." As Helms lists several "secret operations," such as Guatemala, Iran, and Cuba, Stone inserts several shots of leaders who were assassinated and violent abuses led by the C.I.A. and sanctioned by the Unites States. Helms asks Nixon whether his position at the CIA is safe, and Nixon tells him, "the president" will make sure his position is protected and that Helms will be funded. As Nixon speaks, a shot of a yellow rose blooms over his face. Helms attempts to divert the conversation from Kennedy's assassination by commenting "flowers are a continual reminder of our mortality," to which Nixon responds, that he doesn't like flowers because they "remind him of death." The emphasis on flowers and the greenery in Helms' office points to Stone's belief that "the Beast" is a natural, organic, phenomenon that cannot be proved by signatures on a paper or traditional evidence. Instead, it can be seen in the power-hungry desires of men such as Helms and the politicians who make the mistake of supporting them.

[29] Helms leans in to smell an arrangement of exotic, tropical flowers, and between the hot-house colors, we see that his eyes have changed from those of a human beings', to those of a lizard -- completely black and glassy. A shot of Helms' monstrous eyes also appears in the Beast sequence when Nixon is at the Lincoln Memorial connecting further the monstrous events of Vietnam (with which that sequence is largely concerned) to different organic tentacles of the Beast. Without the context of this scene, Helms' eyes during the Lincoln Memorial beast sequence could refer to the darkness enveloping the vision of American leadership but also the public that refuses to acknowledge what is going on. When we see Helms' eyes, Nixon comments, "There's worse things than death, there's such a thing as evil," suggesting he recognizes that Helms and those like him are secret monsters or beasts. In this beast sequence, I believe that Stone sees Helms as representative of not just the Beast but also a satanic figure. The Beast of Revelations 13 in the Bible is brought to power by the "dragon...with a serpent tongue," or the devil (who is also represented as a snake in the Old Testament). The contacts that Waterston wears to darken his eyes make them appear to be reptile-like aligning Helms' reptile eyes with the reptile eyes of Satan.

[30] Stone continues the Beast as biblical monster when Helms quotes the W. B. Yeats poem, "The Second Coming":

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
and everywhere, the ceremony of innocence is lost
The best lack all conviction;
while the worst, are full of passionate intensity
What rough Beast, its hour come round at last,
slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.
During the last line, Helms looks accusingly at Nixon. As Nixon looks back, first embarrassed and then defiant, Helms concludes by saying, "this country stands at such a juncture." During Helm's recitation of the poem, the camera spins slowly around Nixon as flowers bloom over his face, and the camera captures tight shots of the center of other flowers. Stone points to the nature of the biblical beast that is animal-like with seven heads and ten horns and receives his power from "the dragon" or the devil. The shot of Helms' eyes among the flowers makes him appear to be a waiting snake in the Garden of Eden. Stone also points to his organic notion of the Beast, with the shots of the flowers that connect to the shots of spreading tuberculosis cells in the Lincoln Memorial beast sequence. Nixon's comment that flowers remind him of death connects the images of flowers and destructive tuberculosis cells because of the swift way both are shown blooming and growing, much like the power of the Beast that blooms and grows quicker than Nixon can control it. Helms quotes the Yeats poem to accuse Nixon that the President is the newest manifestation of the Beast, and the American public's tacit support of him and his war-mongering policies have brought him into power.

V. Conclusion

"All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin."
-John F. Kennedy, Presidential Inauguration, January 20, 1961

[31] Director Milos Forman states, "You don't have to be faithful to the facts. History has to be faithful to the facts. Drama has to be faithful to the spirit of the facts." But William Safire has directly criticized Stone: "When drama must be served, history is often subverted" (Safire 15). Forman and Safire make interesting points, however; both condescendingly imply that audiences are only interested in being entertained and it is the director's job to pander to this instinct. History is not a subjective experience for either critic but a static thing, to which only some individuals have a special claim. In an address delivered at U.C. Berkeley, Stone told his audience, "art, cultural or whatever, is meant to heal, to bind the tribe together on an annual basis to revive mourning and tears and pity and horror and joy. Those things the Greeks called catharsis, the sharing of pity and terror and joy with all. A bond exists between the onlookers and the pierced ones" (Kreisler). Stone argues that his films will bring the nation together because of the dialogue created by his controversial choices.

[32] As Homi Bhabha claims, "the contemporary historical film is...a privileged discursive site in which anxiety, ambivalence, and expectation about the nation, its history, and its future are played out in narrative form." Bhabha suggests that the "embellishment" or "myth-making" in the "history process" is necessary in order for us to sustain our identities. When one asserts that Hollywood needs to exercise responsibility when creating its "entertainment," it is out of fear of the kind of identity that we are creating and projecting onto others. However, because there will always be sites of contestations for whom we choose to believe and with whom we choose to identify, the vision of a desolate world that Stone sees as the result of Nixon's taking office is not necessarily a true or accurate one. Talking about whether history-genre films should more accurately portray history is a dead-end argument, along the lines of whether movies can perfectly adapt books. There is no way that a film can perfectly adapt a book, even if the director says that is his intention, and I apply this same notion to the historical filmmaker.

[33] I think there has to be an acceptance that what counts as history is as arbitrary as any other collection of facts used to constitute a story. Even president Nixon knew this when he said, "The judgment of history depends on who writes it." There is an arbitrariness to the facts of history, but there is a supposedly "complete" story being told when we present histories in textbooks. If we could educate people to accept the notion of history as a fractured and fragmented narrative, we can make some headway towards combining the "real" and the "reel" in our day-to-day education.

[34] Stone's myth-making of Nixon does not allow us to always sympathize with the figure of the president. The film does allow us to explore Nixon's later political career, but I hoped that Stone would have done more to explore Nixon's earlier personal and political life and his post-resignation career. It is understandable that Stone doesn't do this because he wants to explore the American myth of success through the figure of Nixon. However, by ending the film with Nixon's flag-draped coffin at his 1994 funeral and Bill Clinton and Bob Dole reading their eulogies, Stone attains a weary sympathy for the President. Stone himself does a voice-over "eulogy" commenting that Nixon's policies laid the groundwork for "mass genocide" in Cambodia and a "decade of high-budget military expansion and near-war" (Hamburg 307). Stone continues, "For the remainder of his life, Nixon fought successfully to protect his tapes. The National Archives spent fourteen years indexing and cataloguing them. Out of four thousand hours, only sixty hours have been made public" (Hamburg 307). Stone tempers any praise of Nixon with the suggestion that even in death Nixon symbolizes the very secrecy that led to his undoing. Stone adds another twist to this schizophrenic conclusion. A black and white still photograph of the actor who plays young Nixon appears. Stone describes him in the script as "little Richard, eyes all aglow with the hopes of the new century," an apt description since over the photograph we hear a train whistle blowing in the distance (Hamburg 307). For Stone, Nixon's "potential was limitless, but ultimately was limited by powers that even he couldn't control" (Hamburg xvii).

[35] Both Nixon and Stone hear the train whistle of the American Dream and its promise of success and failure. In the end, it is this contradictory sequence of scenes that allows us some sympathy for Richard Nixon -- to sympathize with Nixon's memory is to sympathize with the various contradictions that can exist within an enigmatic persona.

Boose, Lynda. "Techno-Muscularity and the 'Boy Eternal': From the Quagmire to the Gulf." Gendering War Talk. Ed. Miriam Cooke and Angela Woollacott. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993.

Collier, Peter. "Ollie Uber Alles, Oliver Stone's Triumph of the Will." American Spectator 25.4 (1992): 28.

Ehrenstein, David. "JFK -- A New Low for Hollywood." Advocate 14 Jan. 1992: 78-83.

FitzGerald, Frances. America Revisited: History Schoolbooks in the Twentieth Century. New York: Vintage Books, 1980.

Hamburg, Eric, ed. Nixon: An Oliver Stone Film. New York: Cinergi Productions, Inc., 1995.

JFK. Dir. Oliver Stone. Perf. Kevin Costner, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, Laurie Metcalf, Sissy Spacek. Illusion Entertainment and Cinergi Production, 1991.

Kreisler, Harry. History and the Movies: Conversation with Oliver Stone. Conversations with History: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley, 1997.

Monsell, Thomas. Nixon on Stage and Screen: The Thirty-Seventh President as Depicted in Films, Television, Plays and Opera. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1998.

Nixon. Dir. Oliver Stone. Perf. Anthony Hopkins, Joan Allen, David HydePierce, Ed Harris, Paul Sorvino, Powers Boothe. Illusion Entertainmentand Cinergi Production, 1995. Videocassette. Hollywood Pictures, 1995. 191 minutes.

Safire, William. "The Way it Really Was Not." New York Times 27 Nov.1995: 15.

Sharett, Christopher. "The Belly of the Beast: Oliver Stone's 'Nixon' and the American Nightmare." Cineaste 22.1 (1996): 4-9.

Stone, Oliver. "Through the Looking Glass: A Critical Overview of Oliver Stone's JFK." Cineaste 19.1 (1992): 8-35.

Stone, Oliver. "Who Defines History? Oliver Stone's Address to the National Press Club." Cineaste 19.1 (1992): 23-24.

Toplin, Robert Brent. History by Hollywood: The Use and Abuse of the American Past. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1996.

Yarbrough, Jeff. "Heart of Stone." Advocate 7 April 1992: 44.