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The Unknown Unknowns: Just How “Ambiguous” is David Fincher’s ZODIAC?

Press Play By Sarah D. Bunting, Michael D'Angelo, and Matt Zoller Seitz | Press Play January 28, 2013 at 1:35AM

The following is a conversation about David Fincher's 2007 film "Zodiac." It was inspired by Twitter conversation about whether it is, in fact, an ambiguous movie, as many have claimed, or if it only seems that way; if it's open, closed, or somewhere in between.
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THE LAND OF TINFOIL HATS

Sarah: Graysmith undermines his own argument, frequently. Not in the last ten minutes. But some of the connections he draws in his research (and the film actually minimizes the miasma of bonko that attends some of his writings in real life) are from the land of tinfoil hats.

Mike: Sarah, I think Graysmith is dead wrong, for the record. Having spent a lot of time researching the case (from long, long before the movie was made—starting in 1981), I'm convinced Allen was not the Zodiac. Just a sidenote.

Sarah: I don't think it's him either. He has the most circumstantial evidence arrayed against him; it wouldn't have gotten him convicted. I do think the movie wants us to think that it's probably Allen...despite Graysmith, not because of Graysmith.

Matt: It's kind of funny in retrospect to see Zero Dark Thirty, knowing about its production history. It went into preproduction before they caught Bin Laden, and it was supposed to be more like Zodiac, as I understand it: a movie about living with not knowing, or without justice, whatever that means to you. Then they killed Bin Laden, and there was closure! History intervened with notes instead of the studio. And yet the two movies still have a lot in common, including a kind of mysterious, the-ground-is-shifting-under-our-feet vibe, coupled with a definite outcome and a lone wolf protagonist that we root for, and believe might be right.

Zodiac 4 Blow-up

I'm fascinated by movies like Zodiac -- movies that adopt what seem to be very conventional approaches and then frustrate the hell out of us. Our moviegoing DNA is encoded with particular expectations, which Zodiac refuses to satisfy. We get a few inches from the finish line, but we don't go over. In some ways I think that’s more radical than if it had taken a more "art film" approach, a Blow-Up or The Conversation kind of approach.

Sarah: I wonder if that says more about the subject than the directorial approach?

Matt: Maybe it says more about the audience!

Sarah: It does in my case. Heh. “Lindbergh baby? I hope you bitches packed a lunch.”

Mike: See, in the end, for me, it kind of boils down to this: If your goal is to reveal more and more and more but ultimately leave the viewer hanging in the way you describe, why in heaven's name would you have the last thing in the movie be a victim saying, very forthrightly, "Last time I saw this face was July 4, 1969. I'm very sure that's the man who shot me." CUT TO BLACK. (Followed by a bunch of chyrons further implicating Allen.) It just doesn't make sense to me.

Matt: Well, I think you're making the ending sound more definite than it actually feels -- or more definite than it felt to me, anyway. We know they never caught the Zodiac. All they had were hunches.

This article is related to: Sarah D. Bunting, Michael D'Angelo, Matt Zoller Seitz, David Fincher


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