Video: The Zapruder Film on YouTube
The other night one of the egghead channels ran a program on the Kennedy Assassination, and as part and parcel to that story they played the Zapruder film, of course.
I’m just as fascinated by the bullets’ trajectory as the rest of them, but on this night, as they looped it endlessly, I couldn’t take my eyes off Jackie.
That timeless domestic gesture as she leans in to her Jack, sensing his first indication of pain, her posture a question mark: Honey, what is it? Are you okay?
Anyone who has cared for another recognizes the impulse: how we execute it without thinking, how it’s wired into us to lean into the ones we love and inquire into their suffering.
And then the next moment, when everything changes, and the movie, although silent, seems to sing of the gun’s report. Her husband’s head recoils from some great force and she scrambles -- Jackie, our queen, who we know as all poise and dignity -- she scrambles onto the back of the limousine.
An automatic impulse, a gathering of what has been scattered. That’s how I’d always seen it: A wife collecting her husband’s bits and brains, the way she might collect the pieces of a shattered vase, to see if it could be pieced together again.
But watching the film something else struck me that escaped my notice before: Her proximity to the final blast.
We know our history, of course. We know she escaped unscathed -- but she didn’t know her history then.
In that moment she sat within inches of the force that took her husband’s life -- as it took it. As it so easily could have taken hers.
And I had to wonder about that final scramble -- was she really gathering up what was lost, hoping to return it -- or was this an impulsive moment of escape? A scramble to safety?
To know in that moment that your husband is lost and to fight in a flurry to save yourself.