Any discussion of how history is portrayed in Oliver Stone’s JFK is a difficult one. It is incredibly difficult to analyze how the “reel” manipulates the “real” because the “real” is so heavily disputed. In 1969, by Executive Order No. 11130, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a commission to investigate the sequence of events that occurred on November 22-24, 1963, and to come to reasonable conclusions based on their findings. These conclusions were to serve as the official story behind the assassination of President Kennedy. In essence, they became the facts of history. However, in the years since the Warren Commission issued its final report, there has been ample evidence to suggest that some – if not all – of the report’s conclusions could not possibly be accurate. The theory that Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots from a bolt-rifle from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository and that those three shots were the bullets that killed President Kennedy and wounded Governor Connally are widely regarded as false. Oliver Stone, a firm believer in the fact that there was a coup d’etat to remove Kennedy from office to prevent him from withdrawing the United States troops from Vietnam, set out to make a film that answered some of the many questions that people still had about what went on in Dallas.
Stone and Zachary Sklar wrote the script for the film. They based the majority of the information they used in the script on two separate books: On the Trail of the Assassins by Jim Garrison (New York: Warner Books, 1988) and Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy by Jim Marrs (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1989). Zachary Sklar happened to be the editor of Marrs’ book, so he was quite familiar with the material. Stone focused more on Garrison’s book, and his story in general. For the most part, he follows Garrison’s testimonial of his investigation into the possibility of a conspiracy from 1966 until 1969 fairly closely. He did make a few changes. He changed some of the names of Garrison’s investigation team. Instead of using the names and likeness of Garrison’s actual witnesses, he created a fictional character named Willie O’Keefe who gives testimony in the film that the real Jim Garrison got from a few sources. He also created a few scenes that didn’t actually occur as a forum for relaying real information that he and his team gathered, such as the hotel room scene with David Ferrie. Finally, there were many instances in which Stone took conspiracy theories or rumors and presented them in a way that made them look like they actually happened, such as the forged Life magazine cover of Oswald or David Ferrie being chased through his apartment and murdered by nameless assassins.
Stone was incredibly successful in creating a film that challenges in almost every fashion the historical account of the Warren Report. Some people found it thought-provoking, causing them to seriously question what really went on. Some people, mostly journalists, thought it was the nonsensical ravings of a paranoid propagandist. It all depends on who you choose to believe. And unless the government starts releasing important documents pertaining to the matter, locked away in a library somewhere under the guise of “national security,” we may never know the real “real.”