To him, the most interesting question is the first one quoted in the film: 'How could someone as inconsequential as Lee Harvey Oswald have killed someone as consequential as John F. Kennedy?" It made no sense at the time, and for some still doesn't, until you start thinking about what would motivate most small people in this world to become bigger.
But what is more gnawing, particularly to people who were inspired by Kennedy, was how his life and death played at the psyche of their idealism. 'We thought that we could change the world," says Tom Hayden, the '60s radical who later became a U.S. Congressman from California. 'That is the key thing that ended for me certainly with the murder of Kennedy." Or, as former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart says, 'He almost singlehandedly transformed the image of the politician."
New Orleans is a featured character in the assassination, both because Oswald was born and raised (initially) in the city and because of Orleans Parish District Attorney Jim Garrison's ill-fated prosecution of businessman Clay Shaw to substantiate Garrison's own conspiracy theory. It was Garrison's crusade that was at the heart of Oliver Stone's film. In Robert Stone's film Garrison is positioned as a conspiracy nut more than a righteous crusader. His use of unreliable witnesses, a rather convoluted system connecting the New Orleans principals with Oswald assassin Jack Ruby, and what apparently became a paranoid attitude toward his critics ruined Garrison's credibility.
If there's one frustrating aspect of Oswald's Ghost, it's the nagging sensation that the focus feels almost too narrow. Despite the aforementioned commitment to discussing the impact of the assassination, the conspiracy theories dominate the 90 minutes. The good news is this offers one last look at the late Norman Mailer, who died in December. With a rare, grand self-effacement, Mailer admits to being one of the bigger conspiracy theorists, and one of the most famous former conspiracy theorists. ('It was an incredible morass of possibility," he concedes about the various theories.) But when the focus shifts to people like Hayden or Hart, the impact lessens; it's almost like it loses in the competition with the conspiracy obsession, however wearying, for the reader's rapt attention. And where's Vincent Bugliosi, who wins the crown for the flat-out largest assassination book ever " last year's 1,632-page Reclaiming History " which supports the lone-gunman claim? (Maybe Bugliosi was still editing that monster at the time of the film's production.)
Regardless, Oswald's Ghost proves once again that the specter of Kennedy's death " no matter how hard we try to run away from it " keeps catching up. That's one magic bullet.