Zodiac, directed by David Fincher (2007)

I saw David Fincher’s Zodiac last night over at the Studio Movie Grill in Arlington with my buddy Scott Williams, German Professor from TCU (and former UT Arlington Language Acquisiton Center Director). The first thing I want to say is that the concept of eating a full meal while watching a movie in a movie theater is kind of scary. Yes, it’s good, but in an overly self-indulgent way. A part of me believes that movie watching should be preserved as movie watching and dinner as dinner, unless you’re at home watching a DVD or TV, in which case the rules are different. Whatever.

The Zodiac murders will probably never be definitively solved, although Robert Graysmith and David Fincher, who bases his movie on Graysmith’s books, accuse one man: Arthur Leigh Allen. There’s something irresistible about the Zodiac case because no other case, with the sole exception of the Jack the Ripper mystery, appeals so intensely to the cultural construction of crime and detection as an intellectual endeavour. In particular, the prominence of cryptography to the case makes the Zodiac crimes strikingly resonate with the idea that crime is a deviant script capable of being decoded by a great mind. (Early associations of cryptography with detection include the 1843 story by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Gold Bug”, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1903 “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” a Sherlock Holmes story.) Detection, in literature, as in the Zodiac case, seeks to decipher deviance and restore a rational, meaningful order. In other words, on a very fundamental level, the classic murder mystery is an exercise in rationalism over irrationalism. In this sense, the Zodiac is the ultimate, true-life murder mystery.

Image: sample of one of the Zodiac’s letters containing a cipher.

Fincher’s movie restores horror to the serial killer genre in the first fifteen minutes of his movie, then it’s all procedure and conversation, but very classy, elegant and visually engaging. There are some very cool montages in the movie and visual touches, several which involve grand, sweeping movements of the camera above the ground. Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. are surprisingly appealing here, as is Jake Gyllenhall. I was happy to see Anthony Edwards, of E.R. fame, back in circulation here, and Dermot Mulroney as well. Less nice is the excruciatingly stereotypical treatment of women.  Graysmith’s girlfriend is the epitome of every standard nag that shows up in every movie about great men trying to do great things. It’s just silly and distracting. Also, the whole guy coming home to find his house cleared out and a note saying “I took the kids to Mom’s” is laughable at this point, no matter how logical or real it may be for women to take the kids and run to Mom’s house when they want to get away from their men. It’s a film trope, and one that has been done to death. What’s worse is that this woman is played and directed so unsympathetically that she is almost as unlikeable in the movie as is Arthur Leigh Allen, the potential serial killer.

Is Arthur Leigh Allen the killer? The movie suggests he is, but I’m afraid we’ll never know for sure. For more information on the Zodiac case, go here.

Image: Mark Ruffalo as David Toschi of the S.F.P.D. The real Toschi loosely inspired McQueen’s Bullitt and Eastwood’s Dirty Harry.

One thought on “Zodiac, directed by David Fincher (2007)

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