Viewer: Zodiac, inspirations from film noir and the dangers of information saturation.

I really enjoyed Zodiac, I was drawn in by rich character development, the thrill of the chase for the serial killer and even their weariness after several years of being on the case without any significant results. David Fincher was able to dictate the feel of the movie across the timeline of the zodiac case. Elevating the sense of tension and danger in times of increased activity of the killer and slowing down the pace to a slow and weary crawl during the most passive periods of the case. During the Zodiac’s most active years the film has a film noir quality to it. The gritty detective (Dave Toschi) with odd idiosyncrasies coupled with a more subdued and passive partner. The relentless journalist who is often at odds with law enforcement, Paul Avery and the cartoonist Robert Graysmith who actually doesn’t mesh fit very well with the other characters during the first half of the movie. I felt enthralled by the struggle of these characters as they slowly came to understand what kind of threat the Zodiac posed for the city of San Francisco.  A typical film noir trope has a mystery/crime that generally is solved at movie run-time. David Fincher offers no such gratification and actually subverts the genre by extending the run-time and introducing an element of manic obsession. What happens when the script is suddenly changed and the usual crime case becomes and un-solvable quagmire where information is no longer reliable and often fails to make any sense? The movie becomes a psychological thriller with Robert Graysmith the upstanding cartoonist taking the spotlight as the movie’s main protagonist. We shift tone and focus from the Zodiac killings and the Zodiac himself to the people who struggle to understand and catch him.

An unknown entity, with competing and contradictory information regarding his identity and motivations. This movie strikes me as meditation on the nature and power of information. We are presented with information in different forms, from the mysterious ciphers, to the written letters, vocal accounts from victims, suspects and expert consultants.  Yet with such a staggering amount of information present none of it could definitely lead to the arrest the true perpetrator of the killings. A very interesting thing I noted in the movie was how David Fincher utilized digital effects to show the passage of time through the accumulation and change of information. The Detectives surrounded by the ciphers and letters as the Zodiac killer increased his activity and correspondence with the police and media. The construction time-lapse and the news audio montage show how the city still continues to change even though the nature of the zodiac case remains constant. With our rapidly growing world and how information becomes easily accessible it becomes very easy to overlook important details or  simply choose to ignore information that is seemingly useless and move on to the next. If we obsess on old information the world will eventually leave us behind even though our intentions might be just. Robert Graysmith has to struggle with this fact as he tries to solve the Zodiac murders years after they had been perpetrated and what was now considered “old news”. He had to struggle a system content with moving on and information corrupted through age and time.

In our world today where digital media is ubiquitous and information is easily accessible is it possible that we may have become less receptive to it? Are we taking learning for granted? The news cycle is rapid and there is very little time taken for contemplation or understanding. In the world of Zodiac information is a cherished and valuable commodity. All parties involved struggle on a daily basis to acquire as much as they can regarding the Zodiac killer but when information loses it’s potency or there becomes too much of it people lose interest and move on except for Graysmith who fights against this mechanism. His resolution although seemingly satisfying to him doesn’t strike a very strong accord with me because it wasn’t grounded in concrete and definitive information. This is odd for me to admit because I too tend to be more intuitive rather than focus on hard facts. This leads me to ask, in our data driven world is it still acceptable to make decisions based on our intuitive knowledge or “gut feeling?

1 comment
  1. There is definitely a theme of whether intuitive knowledge is as important, or has the veracity of information backed by hard facts. Graysmith’s conclusion that Allen is the Zodiac Killer is based on circumstantial evidence; there is no hard data like DNA matches that inexorably proves Allen to be the killer. However, he is certain based on his intuition that Allen is the killer which is understandable. To answer your last question regarding the acceptability of gut feeling, I believe there is a spectrum where decisions can be based on intuition. But there is a point at which a decision needs to be defended with hard facts. That decision could be a legal decision, or maybe a business decision that impacts thousands of dollars. In the world we live with the proliferation of technology, there exists data on everything. It is always possible to support a theory (if it is true) with the data that we can collect these days, so a simple “gut feeling” loses its weight.

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