1995note One year after its subject died biopic of the thirty-seventh President of the United States, directed by Oliver Stone and starring Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon. The film explores Nixon and his triumphs and his failings, culminating in his resignation of the office of the presidency in disgrace following the revelation of his abuse of office and executive privilege following the Watergate scandal.It was the second movie Stone made following JFK, and like the earlier film — an angry, searing and rabble-rousing examination of the assassination ofJohn F. Kennedy — it drew a lot of controversy... but not necessarily for the reasons you'd expect. Unlike the earlier film, which was heavily presented as fact, this movie admits from the start it's based on 'an incomplete historical record' and is intended as less a hatchet job and more an attempt to understand who Nixon was and why he was compelled to act the way he did. As such, it earned critics from both sides; while supporters of Nixon (including his daughters) disowned it as inaccurate (in particular, it was argued that the depiction of Nixon and his wife's alcoholism and pill addiction was grossly exaggerated), some critics of Nixon argued that it wasn't harsh enough on the former president in that, while hardly downplaying his faults, it suggested that there was the potential (and even the realization) of greatness in the man. Stone would later paint a similar portrait of George W. Bush in the eponymous W.The plot is largely non-linear, at least for the first half, and essentially involves Nixon flashing back through his past as he listens to his secret tape recordings as the Watergate scandal intensifies, the tapes triggering memories of his childhood, his unsuccessful campaign for president against John F. Kennedy in 1960 and his wilderness years following an equally unsuccessful campaign for governor of California in 1962. The second half follows a more linear form, kicking off when Nixon is elected President in 1968, and follows his presidency through Vietnam, his groundbreaking visit to China and, of course, Watergate.
Nixon provides examples of:
The Alcoholic: Although it's not labored on that much, it is suggested that Nixon and Pat Nixon have trouble controlling their booze.
Richard M. Nixon:Always remember: others may hate you. But those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself. Richard M. Nixon: Ellsberg's not the issue. It's the lie. Richard M. Nixon: The key thing we proved was that Hiss was a liar. Then people bought that he was a spy. Richard M. Nixon: It's the coverup that looks really bad here John, not the deed.
Arch-Enemy: Nixon views the Kennedys and particularly JFK as his.
Black Eyes of Evil: Thanks to a trick of the light during filming or special effects, depending on who you believe, in a deleted scene where Nixon meets C.I.A Director Dick Helms, Helms' eyes at one point go completely black as Nixon is talking about evil — specifically, the evil that the system that he and Helms represent has unleashed on the world. While Helms wasn't exactly a nice man, his estate perhaps not surprisingly objected to the implication that he was some kind of demon, and the scene was removed from the theatrical release (the director's cut restored it).
Blame Game: Nixon and his administration go absolutely crazy trying to pin the blame for their activities on underlings in order to keep the growing attention they're getting away from the White House. Eventually Nixon gets so desperate that he winds up cutting loose practically everyone up to his closest advisors.
Blatant Lies: Nixon claims he has a plan to end the Vietnam war immediately and "with honour". J. Edgar Hoover is watching the televised interview at the time and notes that Nixon is lying through his teeth, and that's what makes him a useful politician.
Call Back: In the scene where Nixon is leaving Dallas on November 22nd 1963, moments before President Kennedy is expected to arrive, the ominous drumbeat and footage of President and Mrs. Kennedy exiting Air Force One and embarking on the fateful motorcade is similar to Stone's earlier movie JFK.
Call Forward: In a very ironic touch, Nixon uses the line "Follow The Money" when he wants to link the subversive protesters to the USSR. The iconic line summarizes Woodward and Bernstein's investigation of Watergate and was created by the film All The Presidents Men.
Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Nixon laments this after losing his first presidential bid to Kennedy; that his rival outspent him and yet still cheated by bringing up top secret information he had been briefed on about the Eisenhower administration's failure to act in Cuba that made Nixon look bad by association.
Dirty Communists: Nixon builds his early political career on blaming all the ills of America on the alleged Communist conspiracy to subvert and overthrow America, teaming up with Joe McCarthy during the height of the Red Scare. He still has the same mindset when dealing with the anti-bombing protests during the early days of his presidency, believing that America's youth are being manipulated by the Communist establishment. It's only towards the end of his first term that Nixon concedes that such a mindset no longer has a place in politics and on the international stage. He goes on to open diplomatic relations with China and gets the SALT 1 and 2 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaties signed with Russia.
J. Edgar Hoover is universally feared, and with good reason: like his real life counterpart, he has dirt on everyone. After asking for Hoover's support in his bid for the presidency, Nixon later muses that Hoover's agreement was really his way of putting Nixon "on notice" that he'd better toe the line.
CIA director Dick Helms along with Hoover are two people Nixon knows never to "fuck with", since they both know all about Nixon's dirty cuban mafia dealings while he was Vice president, which may or may not have links to the Kennedy assassination.
Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Nixon knows that people love Kennedy and hate him. What he truly doesn't gasp is why. It's made even more tragic because Nixon knows Kennedy was just as flawed a person as he is.
Richard M. Nixon: Do you miss Cuba, Manolo? Manolo Sanchez: Yes, Mr. President. Richard M. Nixon: We let you down, didn't we. Your people. Manolo Sanchez: That was Mr. Kennedy, sir. Richard M. Nixon: You don't think he was a hero? Manolo Sanchez:(shrugs) He was a politician. Richard M. Nixon: Did you cry when he died? Manolo Sanchez: Yes. Richard M. Nixon: Why? Manolo Sanchez: I don't know. He made me... see the stars. Richard M. Nixon: How did he do that? (beat. Nixon is deep in thought) Richard M. Nixon: All those kids... Why do they hate me so much?
Freudian Excuse / I Coulda Been a Contender: Exaggerated by Nixon. He is the leader of the most powerful country in the world. Even so, that is little compared to his younghood's dreams. He is full of bitterness:
Young Student: You don't want the war, we don't want the war, the Vietnamese don't want the war, so why does it go on? (Nixon hesitates. Haldeman whispers "We should be going" to him.) Young Student: You can't stop it, can you? Even if you wanted to. Because it's not you, it's the system. The system won't let you stop it. Richard M. Nixon: There's... there's more at stake here than what you want, or what I want. Young Student:Then what's the point?What's the point of being President? You're powerless! Richard M. Nixon:No. No, I'm not powerless. Because, because I understand the system, I believe I can, uh, I can control it. Maybe not control it totally, but tame it enough to make it do some good. Young Student: Sounds like you're talking about a wild animal. Richard M. Nixon:Yeah, maybe I am.
It's all about Nixon!: Nixon, who says it word by word, thinks the media and public turning against him are all because they don't like him, and nothing at all to do with the horrible things he did as president.
Hidden Depths: In a quiet moment, Nixon laments the shooting of the students protesting over the bombing of Cambodia.
Historical In-Joke: Chief of Staff Al Haig yells out "I'm in Charge here!", when Nixon is admitted to hospital. This a reference to his bizarre press conference (while serving as Secretary of State) that he held when President Ronald Reagan suffered an assassination attempt.
Hoist by His Own Petard: Nixon starts the taping of The White House in order to control the leaks. The tapes become a potentially fatal evidence during his impeachment.
Nixons closed-door meeting with Mao has shades of this. Mao is clearly depressed about his legacy and flat out bored with political life. He's more interested in asking why Kissinger is such a ladies man.
Nixon gets there too. His own wife remarks he has alienated everyone, including her.
Men Don't Cry: Nixon believes in this and says it word for word, adding that "you don't cry, you fight.". Averted during his final moments at the helm.
Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: The Watergate break-in, a "third-rate burglary", opens a can of worms that exposes Nixon's shady deals and terminates his presidency.
A tense meeting between Nixon and John Dean in which Dean begins to suspect that Nixon is setting him up to be a scapegoat suddenly takes a turn for the comic when Nixon, escorting Dean out of the Oval Office, pulls the handle off the door, prompting a moment of awkwardness as the two remain trapped in the office.
Another tense meeting with General Haig in a corridor ends with Nixon dramatically trying not to get impeached and denying it all. He walks toward a big hall full of "P.O.Ws", while looking deeply in distress ... and change suddenly his face to give a big politician smile.
John Ehrlichman: Well, sir, it turns out one of the people implicated is still on the White House payroll.
Richard M. Nixon: Who? Not another damn Cuban?
H. R. Haldeman: No sir. A guy named Hunt. Howard Hunt, sir.
Richard M. Nixon: [Fear creeping on his face] Hunt? Howard Hunt?
Nuke 'em: At dinner with his advisors, Nixon threatens to take this action in Vietnam if he feels it will force the north Vietnamese to surrender. Everyone is aghast by the notion until Henry Kissinger chimes in that they have to entertain the possibility.
Only Sane Man / Sanity Ball: Inverted in that almost everyone realizes Nixon is increasingly unstable following Watergate, but can't do a thing about it. Ehrlichman plays the role most often though.
Open Secret: J. Edgar Hoover's sexual proclivities are well known to Nixon and others. When discussing Hoover, Nixon even refers to him as "the old queen" and "that old cocksucker". Since Hoover is The Dreaded for having all the dirty goods on everyone else, nobody would dare use Hoover's Open Secret against him.
Orwellian Editor: Nixon becomes one of these in a scene where his aides are transcribing his secret recordings, in which he rants about the amount of swearing and less-than-politically correct statements he's made. As well as the obvious reasons of trying to present himself in the best possible light ("The world will see what I show them! From page one!"), it's also used to display how increasingly delusional he's becoming — he frantically (and apparently sincerely) insists that he never said these things despite the fact that his own taping system has recorded him saying them.
Pet the Dog: Invoked literally by Nixon in his defense during a speech about the Checkers scandal; he brings up a dog adopted by his children, named Checkers. It's infamously successful.
Politically Incorrect Villain: While Nixon doesn't exemplify correction, the shadowy men who want to control the country behind the scenes stand out in this regard.
Realpolitik: Nixon believes America will look weak and exploitable on the world stage by pulling out of Vietnam immediately. He decides instead to bomb the hell out of Vietnam and Cambodia for a few more years to appear in a position of dominance before accepting the same peace treaty with the North Vietnamese which they had been offering the whole time.
Re Cut: A director's cut was released with 28 additional minutes, mostly centered around a scene where Nixon meets with CIA director Richard Helms, which was initially removed because Helms threatened with a lawsuit, and another on Tricia Nixon's wedding day, where J. Edgar Hoover persuades Nixon to install the taping system in the Oval Office.
Refuge in Audacity: Invoked by Nixon; he can start a détente with the Communist countries because he has the proven reputation of a hardliner. Anyone but him would be lambasted for being soft.
Let's all say it together: "Only Nixon could go to China."
Replacement Scrappy: In-universe. Nixon think himself as this compared to JFK, and that the American people sees him as this as well and thats why they've such a low opinion of him.
The Resenter: Nixon resents Kennedy's popularity, even long after his death.
Rule of Symbolism: After threatening to drop the big one on north Vietnam while discussing the matter at dinner with his advisors, Nixon orders his steak be taken away because it has leaked a large pool of blood on his plate.
To Citizen Kane: the opening shot of the White House, ominously viewed through the metal fence during a storm, mirrors the reveal of Xanadu. As well as any number of horror films featuring a scene / opening with an ominous mansion.
Also from Citizen Kane: the nonlinear structure, use of a fake newsreel to give background on Nixon's life, and the tool of a mystery at the center of the subject's soul (Rosebud in Kane, the Watergate tapes in Nixon).
10-Minute Retirement: Nixon promises his wife he's quitting politics after his defeat in 60, but then he runs again in 62. Afterwards he retires to a civilian life when Pat asks for a divorce. Nixon does a comeback in 68.
Jack Jones: Dick... your country needs you.
Nixon: Unfortunately, the country's not available right now.
Kissinger: Can you imagine what he could have been if he had ever been loved?
Traitor Shot: Kissinger briefly receives a few of them when the leaks are being discussed.
Very Loosely Based on a True Story: While the movie is generally true to Nixon's life, certain aspects have been compressed, altered and played with for dramatic value. The movie, granted, admits this straight up.
Villainous Breakdown: Depends on whether you view Nixon as a villain or not, but the last third of the movie basically features Nixon having a slow-burning one as he becomes increasingly delusional, frantic and paranoid as the Watergate crisis spirals out of control. After he finally signs his resignation letter and is alone with Henry Kissinger, he asks Kissinger to join him on his knees in prayer and essentially starts crying and babbling incoherently. According to Kissinger himself, this episode actually happened.
Vote Early, Vote Often: Nixon's camp accuses Kennedy of stuffing the ballot boxes, but Nixon doesn't contest the election. The movie doesn't mention that Nixon did his own stuffing too.
An undercurrent of the story. A central theme is Nixon's paranoia over "the whole Bay of Pigs thing" coming out again — with "Bay of Pigs" heavily implied and speculated to be code about some conspiracy, real or imagined, that Nixon believed existed about who actually killed Kennedy, which he was afraid to discover the real truth about. In his tense meeting with the shadowy Texas businessmen and Cuban exiles in 1963 (the day before Kennedy arrived, let us noted), it's hinted that they have something to do with it.
Not quite JFK, but his later meeting with J. Edgar Hoover contains a hint that Hoover has some responsibility for Robert Kennedy's assassination ("They should shoot the son-of-a-bitch.")
Nixon also claims the way was cleared for him by "four bodies", implied to be JFK, RFK and Nixon's two brothers who died of tuberculosis (if they had lived his family would never have had enough money to send Richard to law school and he never would have been a politician).