Kara and I go to the movies to see something that makes us laugh, inspires us, or simply entertains us. The film we saw this past weekend did none of those things, and instead left us drained and sad. We went to see Parkland.
We weren’t alive when President John Kennedy was assassinated, and with this November marking fifty years since that day, we want to learn as much as possible about such a traumatic event in American history. We’d read that Parkland was the work of fellow journalist Peter Landesman, with a stamp of approval by Tom Hanks. Landesman was quoted as saying everything in the movie had to be verifiable, unlike other films in the Kennedy assassination genre, like Oliver Stone’s JFK.
As a child growing up in suburban Boston, President Kennedy was a hero to many. My grandmother actually referred to him as Jack, as if he were a member of the family, and became distraught when talking about the assassination. My mother often told the story of how she was ironing while watching “As the World Turns,” when the first news bulletin blurted from her television that the president had been shot. My parents saved the newspapers from November 22, 1963, and I remember reading the yellowed pages of the Boston Globe and Boston Herald. I remember thinking “slain” seemed like an odd word to use in a headline. I still do.
Over the years there were television specials and movies that explored motives and conspiracy theories, but very few that captured the emotion of that awful day. Parkland promised to do that.
I’ll be honest, the beginning of the movie is heart-wrenching and painful to watch. Kara and I could feel our bodies tensing up as soon we saw the limo speeding toward the hospital. If everything in the movie is verifiable, then the real trauma room scene fifty years ago, was truly a horrific one. Parkland takes the audience through every gory moment of the futile efforts to resuscitate the mortally wounded president, and even though we know how this ends, when doctors find a heartbeat, you can’t help but feel hopeful. I thought the acting in the hospital scenes were very well done, but they left us wanting more.
What did the doctors and nurses really do after the president’s body, first lady and secret service agents were all gone? Did they break down? After all, they were suddenly thrust into being a witness and player in one of the worst chapters in our nation’s history Did they go home, call people, grab a drink? The movie never delves into the impact the assassination had on these key employees of the hospital, for which the movie is named.
Parkland is several stories within a story, and focuses on the emergency room staff, a secret service agent, an FBI agent, the brother of Lee Harvey Oswald and Abraham Zapruder, the dressmaker who filmed the assassination. Cheshire native Paul Giamatti does an excellent job of portraying this ordinary man whose 26 second film turned his life upside down.
The movie does give you a great sense of how Zapruder coped with being an eyewitness, and the attention to detail is impressive, but the filmmakers left out an important part of Zapruder’s afternoon on November 22. In the movie the secret service escorts Zapruder from place to place trying to find someone who could develop the film. The next day, we see how Zapruder was besieged with offers from media outlets looking to buy his film. It begs the question, how did so many people know what his camera had recorded? That’s not answered in the film.
Those who have studied the assassination know that one of Zapruder’s stops in his quest for a film processor was WFAA-TV, less than two hours after Kennedy had been shot. While engineers at the television station were trying to figure how to develop the film, Zapruder granted a live interview to WFAA anchor Jay Watson, telling viewers what he had recorded at Dealey Plaza. Suddenly the Zapruder film was in hot demand. As it turned out, that tv station couldn’t develop color film, and Zapruder and the secret service walked out, denying WFAA of what would have been the scoop of the century.
I thought that was an important part of the Zapruder story, but it is not part of Parkland. You can watch the Zapruder interview on YouTube.
Overall, I’d recommend going to see the movie, because it does give you an accurate depiction of how the assassination impacted several people who were integral to the events of that day, and it skips all the conspiracy theories. I think the film was well done, but might have been better as a four-part eight-hour series on HBO, to afford a deeper portrayal of the characters.
A minor note: as a car buff, I noticed a couple of bloopers. The hearse used to carry Lee Harvey Oswald’s body on November 25, 1963, was a 1966 Cadillac. Oops. Also, I found it odd that the same bronze colored 1963 Oldsmobile 98 was driven by three different characters.
Also, watch my interview with the brother of Jack Ruby http://dennishouse.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/rubys-brother-jack-didnt-want-to-kill-oswald/