The Effect of a Prolonged Timeline on Viewers

After hearing about Zodiac in class, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. Granted, I can see why people can dislike this film because it feels like it drags at times, and the film is honestly exhausting at times. However, I feel that Fincher tried to bring out these emotions from the audience purposefully through the movie’s endless transitions in time without any resolve in the stories main conflict. Throughout the film, we see several people take on the case of the zodiac such as the cartoonist, Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), and the journalist, Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.).  As time passes, shown through an endless number of time skips, we see the case take a physical toll on everyone who was involved. First, it was the handwriting expert, who retired and became an alcoholic. Then, the case began to affect Paul Avery, the journalist. He started to become an alcoholic, and eventually, he quit The Chronicle to live on the sea, drinking his days away. When we see him for the last time in a bar, he looks 10 years older than his age and he’s breathing from an oxygen tank.

After Avery gave out, the case began to take a toll on Inspector David Toschi. One of the most tenacious people (unofficially) gives in after he lost his best lead. His emotions towards the case can be seen in his conversation’s with Robert Graysmith. In his conversations, he expresses that there are more relevant cases to investigate, and the Zodiac case will never be solved after all the years and struggles of investigating. Lastly, after seemingly endless failures to progress the case, we have Robert Graysmith take on the case by himself. As a viewer after an hour and 45 minutes into the film, we think that “Oh, this character is going to miraculously solve the case now. All this build up has to be resolved,” but we have to endure Graysmith’s painful efforts to solve this practically dead case for another 50 minutes. Similarly, viewers are able to see the physical and mental toll the case takes on Graysmith, and as a viewer, the endless amount of dead ends over time starts to really take a toll on us too. For a brief moment towards the end of the film, I thought that we would never have a resolution. Fincher prolongs the film this way to make the viewer truly experience what Graysmith goes through. By the end, we are desperate to have the mystery be solved just like Graysmith.  Finally, after a twenty-two year timeline and after Graysmith releases his book, we have the first victim of the Zodiac killer confirm the identity of his attacker through photos of different suspects. After a grueling 2 hours and 30 minutes, we only get a resolution that spans for about a minute of viewing time. By the end of the film, Fincher makes us truly understand how long and exhausting this case was.

2 comments
  1. I think that Fincher definitely gave the film a prolonged runtime on purpose. The case of the Zodiac Killer was a real thing and as a true crime film, it helps the film feel truer to the actual crime represented. Along with this, I believe the film is also about the passage of time and how it is affected by a lack of resolution. As time passes in the film, leads lead to dead ends and the evidence and information characters have always fall short of being able to prove anything. With the consistent ups and downs of the case, the characters become more obsessed with solving the case than actually catching the Zodiac Killer and this shows in the ways that their characters develop as they turn angry, alcoholic, or just give up, along with them overlooking cases happening simultaneously. When nothing gets solved or really goes anywhere, we feel stuck and showing this through a runtime of over two hours shows the grueling feeling of going nowhere that happened with the Zodiac case and also happens in life in general. The passage of time has serious effects on people and their lives. The passage of time with lack of information or resolve has an even more extreme effect on people that is depicted as a negative effect in this film. Perhaps we should gather as much information as we can to avoid this from happening, and perhaps we should avoid looking for more information where there may not be any.

  2. I agree that Fincher sought to stretch the film out to impress upon the viewer the exhaustive nature of the case. Another element that Fincher employs repeatedly is by changing the scene and stating how much time has passed in a caption at the bottom of the picture. This happens so many times that keeping track of the plot time becomes exhausting as well. It is not helped that often Fincher states that mere hours have passed since the previous scene. In a different movie, that time span would be insignificant, but he forces the audience to keep track of every minute that passes.

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