JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass – Fatiguing and pernickety

Oliver Stone’s documentary unsurprisingly holds tight to conspiracy orthodoxy

JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass
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Director: Oliver Stone
Cert: 15A
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Oliver Stone, John R Tunheim, Henry Lee, Robert F Kennedy Jr, James K Galbraith, David Talbot
Running Time: 1 hr 58 mins

In the course of this fatiguing documentary, Oliver Stone argues that, when it comes to the assassination of John F Kennedy, conspiracy theory has been replaced by "conspiracy fact". In a sense, he is correct. Over the last 30 years or so, thanks in no small part to Mr Stone's efforts, the once-controversial notion that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone (or at all) has become a new orthodoxy. I can recall watching footage of visitors arriving to Dealey Plaza on the 30th anniversary of the killing. Asked what he thought happened, one traveller remarked: "It was a coup d'état." But that's not what you think, sir. That is what Oliver Stone thinks. Kevin Costner speaks that line in the director's then still-recent JFK.

Over the passing years, that scepticism has become ever more deeply embedded in the collective psyche. If Stone really wanted to shock the public, he should release a documentary relating what – let us shave the facts with Occam’s razor, shall we? – most probably did happen. Oswald shot Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository. At least one of the bullets took a few erratic swerves on its way through the president and governor Connally. There were predictable clerical errors in the aftermath. The Warren Commission did not investigate as fully as it should have done, but it most likely still came to the correct conclusion. That genuinely would take us “through the looking glass”.

Stone's latest film firmly and unsurprisingly holds tight to conspiracy orthodoxy. Unlike JFK, which at least had the virtue of vulgar flamboyance, Through the Looking Glass plays out like a high-end YouTube video. Robert Richardson, the director's regular cinematographer, demonstrates admirable loyalty in turning up for camera duties, but this really is a waste of his Oscar-winning talents. Stone strides sombrely by the Grassy Knoll. He asks questions of various dogged theorists. The viewers thank heavens they weren't forced to endure the proposed four-hour version.

On reflection, YouTube is perhaps not the best comparison. Largely derived from the 1992 book Destiny Betrayed: JFK, Cuba, and the Garrison Case by James DiEugenio, Stone’s film hears much from older researchers who were plugging away before the internet took off. The many authors interviewed here, unlike the current generation of “Google it” mayflies, have put in the hours over microfiches and hard documents. The experience is, perhaps, closer to that of attending a JFK assassination conference around 1995 or so. Diligence is not in short supply.


There is much recently uncovered information here, but nobody in possession of Mark Lane’s book Rush to Judgment in battered, orange-spined Penguin – you know who you are – will be much surprised by the direction of travel. We begin with a summary of the assassination. We move on to arguments about how the (I cannot emphasise the words “supposed” strongly enough) magic bullet was found. There is some pernickety stuff about that photo of Oswald holding the alleged murder weapon. We hear about what witnesses did and did not see on the stairs of the Book Depository.

In a rare moment of invention, the voiceover shifts from Whoopi Goldberg to a familiar Canadian rumble. Donald Sutherland, who played the whistleblower in JFK, takes us through a largely irrelevant aftermath that, if it pleases the court, "goes to motive".

Nobody can doubt the filmmakers’ diligence. The interviewees seem like serious-minded people. But, as has been the case for close to 60 years, we are left with a jumble of loosely connected discrepancies that will do little to persuade those who expect everyday existence to be just that chaotic. “I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone,” Costner said in another film . “I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter.”

Well, quite.

On limited release from November 26th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist