Closed and Broken: Doors as a Symbol for Life in Marvel’s Jessica Jones

Jessica-Jones“I had that window custom made.” The window had been a perfect marker for Alias Investigations; it had also been shattered when the sole operator of the company threw a disgruntled customer through it. Meet Jessica Jones, the Marvel comic book character brought to life in the new Netflix original show by the same name. The window, the whole door in fact, is a major symbol for all of Jones’ life. It stands as a representative for isolation, mystery, and brokenness in her story.

Doors are a major device throughout the show. Routinely they become points of attention. We find whole conversations happening through closed doors, doors being slammed in people’s faces, and doors being ominously opened. Jessica’s own broken apartment door draws recurring attention from other characters across multiple early episodes in season one. These occurrences combined with Jones’ own interactions with doors create a compelling symbol for her life.

The functional design of a door is obvious. It is designed to keep out unwanted people, and keep in those we love. So doors routinely express isolation and welcome throughout the show. Jones’ door is regularly a point of separation between her and her neighbors. She throws Malcolm out of her apartment and closes the door behind him. She slams the door in Rubin’s face regularly. And the door is just a symbol of the distance she creates between her and many others. She refuses to let people in, refuses to develop meaningful relationships. Jones even verbalizes this isolation: “Something I would never say, like ‘I love you’”. Even Trish, her sister, is held at arms-length throughout the season. When she does visit Trish it’s not by means of knocking on the front door, but by scaling the balcony and coming in through the back doors. The first time we see her do this she tells Trish, “I was afraid you wouldn’t open the door if you saw me.” Their relationship, at least initially, is hampered and symbolized by closed doors.

All of Jones’ relationships are impacted in this way. We see this clearly when we contrast them with other character’s interactions. Trish’s massive security door becomes a focus later in an episode as Trish sits on one side of it and Officer Simpson on the other side. Having been recently attacked Trish is reluctant to open the door; but after hours of conversation with Simpson, she finally welcomes him in and their relationship begins to unfold. Jones has a similar scenario. She and Luke Cage stand on opposite sides of her own apartment door. She tells him to go home, but instead they proceed to talk. Jones eventually opens the door and invites him in too, but despite starting off well, their relationship struggles initially. By the next morning they are standing on opposite sides of the bathroom door as Jones continues to keep her secrets. They talk through the door for a brief moment and then Cage leaves. Despite having opened the literal front door, there is still massive distance between her and Cage, symbolized in that closed bathroom door.

The doors not only communicate Jessica’s isolation, they communicate the mystery of her world. The plate glass window in Jessica’s door invites all kinds of unsettling wonder. Who is on the other side? Who is it that just knocked? Is it a neighbor, a friend, or Kilgrave? Mystery abounds in Jessica Jones’ world. The silhouette at her door does not merely invite reflection on the knocker, but on the whole of the story. Who is Jessica? Who is Kilgrave? Every closed door reminds us there is still much we don’t know about this character’s universe. There’s also much that she doesn’t know. Despite all her super powers and her skills as a P.I. she has fears and uncertainties. She is most often uncertain of herself. Uncertain about what she will do, whether she will be able to stop herself, whether she will be the hero. Marvel CMU has been good at portraying all their characters with a touch of realism. Iron Man suffers from his own PTSD after the events of New York in the first movie, and Black Widow relives her own childhood traumas in Age of Ultron. Jones, for her part, has become a self-destructive alcoholic, her attempt to cope with the fact that she can’t control her world. Mystery and uncertainty swirl around her and she is as much a victim to it as any normal character.

In one particularly powerful scene we see Hope Schlottman, having just been rescued from Kilgrave by Jones, kill her parents. She stands in the elevator saying goodbye to her heroine, but just as the doors are about to seal her facial expression changes, she keeps her eyes fixed on Jessica, pulls a gun and shoots both her parents. The doors are another reminder that Jones can’t rescue everyone. She can’t stop it from happening. She didn’t know it was going to happen, she tells the investigating officer. “If I had known it wouldn’t have happened.” There still much that she doesn’t know and can’t stop. She’s not that perfect comic book hero; she’s a flawed and limited superhero. One who can’t see through closed doors.

Finally, doors become a recurring reminder of the character’s own brokenness. Jessica’s own apartment door is a useful symbol for her life. The door itself is basically functional. It does open and close, but it isn’t quite working properly. It’s off its hinges some, has to be forced open, and even when it gets set right it eventually gets busted again. As the show progresses Jessica is putting another man through the window on the door. It remains shattered for several episodes. As the season ends the camera pans out through the shattered window on the once again broken door. Jessica’s voiceover monologue clearly articulates that despite all appearances she is still broken. “Maybe it’s enough that the world thinks I am a hero,” she says. “Maybe if I work long and hard, maybe I could fool myself.” She plays the role of hero, but she doesn’t really believe it. She knows she’s broken. Her door is the representative reminder of her own disheveled life.

The writers’ own use of doors throughout the Jessica Jones world is intriguing. Their heavy symbolism throughout the show makes real connections with most viewers. We can relate, at some level, to Jessica’s life. Our own metaphorical doors are often closed, broken, or struggling to open. Our own insecurities keep us from making progress in life. We keep those metaphorical closet doors closed, trapping all those skeletons inside. Jessica is a relatable hero because she’s not perfect. Her doors are our doors. We long for the same thing she does: an open door through which we can walk into a new and different way of life. And all this conversation about closed and broken doors makes me think of just how inviting it is that Jesus says, “I am the door.”

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