What Does the Zapruder Film Really Tell Us?

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris deconstructs the most famous 26 seconds in film history

One frame of the Zapruder film has long been considered too graphic for public view. (Zapruder Film © 1967 (Renewed 1995) The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza)
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(Continued from page 4)

In trying to understand conspiracy theorists, I used to think that what conspiracy theorists were really doing on some level was grieving, their fantasies a form of displaced love for JFK, but I’ve come to think the love involved is mostly self-love, their self-congratulatory assertion of superiority over mere facts. By the way, yes, I do believe there were some real conspiracies in history—Julius Caesar’s assassination for instance—I just think they need to be proven, fact by fact, not by fantasy and supposition.

I ask Morris about my theory of grief underlying the obsession with the assassination—that we underestimate the shock of it.

“I would agree with that,” replies Morris. “I mean why am I so obsessed with...” He pauses. “You know, I’ll never really know what killed my brother and my father, who died both at a very, very early age. But there’s a mystery about death....”

I was stunned.

“What did they die from?”

“I believe massive heart attacks. One at the age of 40, the other at the age of 43.” (Morris is now 65.)

“And coming up with a conspiracy theory to explain the assassination is at least a way of regaining some control over the world?”

“Conspiracy theories often provide solace,” he says. “They provide a level of comfort that makes sense of a world that seems otherwise beyond our ken, our control.”

“In my book about Hitler,” I recall, “I wrote that the inexplicability of horror is equaled by the horror of inexplicability.”

“Conspiracies tell you that there’s a kind of easy way to grasp the idea of evil. It’s those bad guys rubbing their hands together...”

“Twirling their mustaches.”

“Twirling their mustaches, calculating panic, conniving. It gives us a picture of evil that is manageable. Even if we don’t know whether it’s Castro, the KGB, the CIA or a host of other possibilities, we know there’s some kind of deep malefaction at work.”

“While the lone assassin suggests that almost anyone you pass by on the sidewalk could be a ticking time bomb.”


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