I was only an embryo on 22 November 1963 but one of the questions I’ve heard that many people with memories of that year can usually answer is ‘where were you when JFK was shot?’ I can certainly remember my own reaction on hearing of the untimely death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Such momentous events are carved into our national consciousness, regardless of our political beliefs or views on the monarchy. Both deaths have spawned endless conspiracy theories and controversies which continue to form the basis of popular speculation.
‘Parkland’ examines the assassination of JFK from another perspective, namely that of the staff at the Parkland hospital to which the President was taken after the shooting. The film is not an attempt to unravel any of the conspiracy theories, but instead depicts the events immediately following the assassination. Zac Efron is a credible Dr Jim Carrico, who continued chest compressions for several minutes after the President was obviously dead. It took a senior doctor to call time on the resuscitation attempts.
There are several unsettling vignettes during the film. For me, the most shocking was when Jackie Kennedy unclenches her hand in the ER. She hands over a small, bloodied chunk of skull and brain tissue. It was later claimed that it was this which she had tried to retrieve from the back of the moving car, just seconds after the fatal shot. Then there are the frantic attempts of Kennedy’s entourage to get his coffin onto a plane; unbolting seats, sawing down a partition and straining to push the heavy casket up the steps. Even hours later, several of the men are still wearing their bloodied shirts from the scene of the crime and the hospital.
Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the shooting, throwing an ordinary family into confused disarray. Oswald’s mother, Marguerite (Jacki Weaver) is portrayed as a very peculiar woman, whose concerns about money seemed oddly misplaced given that her son stood accused of murdering the President. Far more palatable are the reactions of Oswald’s brother, Robert (James Badge Dale) for whom I developed some sympathy, especially when he had to call upon a group of press photographers to act as pall bearers at the scene of his brother’s burial.
Peter J. Ling, biographer of John F. Kennedy awarded ‘Parkland’ 3 stars out of 5 for historical accuracy. I found it highly watchable despite its somewhat morbid subject matter, and I am sure I picked up some of the more elementary facts surrounding the assassination, about which I had been woefully ignorant. Now I just can’t help getting sidetracked by the conspiracy theories.