You Shouldn’t Be Here

Bobby Kennedy’s Funeral Train

If you were alive that day, you will surely remember where you were when you first heard the news. I was in Catholic school, in California. It was still morning there when the awful news was announced over the PA. I can still remember watching Lawrence, the student sitting next to me, breaking down and bawling uncontrollably until he was led out of the classroom. A couple of days ago, instead of waiting at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, waiting for the second coming of JFK Jr., in observance of the anniversary, I began watching 11.22.63. This 2016 Hulu miniseries, based upon a Stephen King novel, attempts to rewrite history. In particular, the events of that day in Dallas when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In this retelling of those events, series protagonist, Jake (James Franco), a disaffected high school English teacher travels back through time to change history and save the president. The vehicle for his time travel is an impossibly long closet in the back of a stainless steel Dinermite diner, located in small town Maine. This diner is owned by Al Templeton (Chris Cooper), who has been trying to save Kennedy himself, but has found that time does not want to be changed and it fights back, hard, “When you fight the past, the past fights back.” Time has given Al cancer and now to complete his mission, Al recruits Jake to take his place. The rules of time travel have that once you exit the closet, you are always deposited on the lot where the diner will be built, at the exact same instant in 1960. One of first times that Jake goes back in time, he carves the initials, JFK in a young tree on the lot. Returning to the present, Jake and Al find those initials still there, proving that one can leave a mark on the past. Another rule of time travel in this story is that each time you return to the past, time has reset itself and any changes that have been made on previous trips are erased. Those initials will not be there when Jake heads back to the sixties. Al trains Jake in everything that he knows about the Kennedy assassination. Jake’s mission is to determine if Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and stop him if he did. Al also trains and equips Jake with the means for navigating and living in the sixties. Al advises Jake not to form any attachments with people in the past, “It never ends well.” But Jake is not a disciplined disciple. When time first pushes back Jake redirects his mission into a totally different direction. Nowhere more is his lack of direction found than in his relationship with the series’ love interest, Sadie (Sarah Gadon). I won’t spoil this series, even though the ending was beautifully written, but the ending is only half the story. The rest is how the story eventually gets there and all the stops it makes along the way.

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