A Review of National Geographic's Docudrama "Killing Kennedy"

By:  Warren Mass
A Review of National Geographic's Docudrama "Killing Kennedy"

National Geographic Channel’s movie Killing Kennedy (based on the book Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard) premiered on November 10. It reran on November 15 and will air again on December 30.

The docudrama presents a dual timeline — one depicting the presidency of John Kennedy and a parallel dramatization about the life of Lee Harvey Oswald, who, the Warren Commission concluded, killed the president. It stars Rob Lowe as President John F. Kennedy, Will Rothhaar as Lee Harvey Oswald, Michelle Trachtenberg as Marina Oswald, and Ginnifer Goodwin as Jacqueline Kennedy.

The movie credibly presents Oswald’s pro-Soviet, pro-communist background. We first encounter him at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow (an incident that took place on October 31, 1959), where he told embassy officer Richard Snyder that he wanted to renounced his U.S. citizenship and remain in the Soviet Union.

The movie follows Oswald to Minsk, where — after being granted permission to work in the Soviet Union — authorities had assigned him to work at the Gorizont Electronics Factory. It was in Minsk where Oswald met his future Russian wife, Marina, at a trade union dance.

Oswald's disenchantment with life in Minsk is presented more as his dislike of the severe winters than with the Soviet system per se, and after the United States generously agreed to allow his return to America, he was unappreciative and continued to harbor pro-Soviet, pro-Cuban, and pro-Marxist sentiments.

There is little reason to dispute the movie’s depiction of the FBI’s interest in Oswald’s time spent in the Soviet Union, as well as his status upon returning home in 1962. The FBI’s questions (e.g., Why did you go to Russia? Are you now or have your ever been a Communist?) are just the type of questions that diligent FBI agents should have asked.

During the Kennedy segments of the docudrama, much attention is paid to the administration’s policy towards Cuba, including the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The rationale for devoting much attention to these two events, apparently, is to portray Kennedy as strongly anti-Castro, and since Oswald was a great admirer of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, they fueled his resentment against President Kennedy.

This explanation is actually quite reasonable, given that Oswald was not nearly so politically sophisticated as he supposed himself to be, and in all likelihood believed whatever spin the mass media presented concerning these two events. He might well have believed that Kennedy was being “tough on Communism” and, consequently, as a Communist sympathizer, decided that Kennedy had to go.

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Graphic: movie poster

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