Zodiac (film)

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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"I believe this is a window into this man's soul. Killing is his compulsion. Even though he tries to ignore it, it drives him. It's in his blood."
"Could be, or maybe he just likes the attention."

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A 2007 film directed by David Fincher, chronicling the killings of the mysterious California killer known as Zodiac, as well as the people who tried to uncover his identity. The film focuses on three main characters:

  • Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle who becomes obsessed with the Zodiac.
  • David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) a renowned San Francisco homicide detective who is put on the case indefinitely.
  • Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.), a reporter on Zodiac for Chron.

The main problem catching the killer is that none of the agencies and jurisdictions investigating[1] have all of the same information, and often the evidence seems to contradict itself. Robert Graysmith eventually takes it upon himself to go between them and solve the crimes.


Tropes used in Zodiac (film) include:


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"I can't discuss the case with you. I can't give you information, and I certainly couldn't tell you to go see Ken Narlow in Napa. N-A-R-L-O-W."
"I can't tell you anything about that. But maybe Melvin Belli could."

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"There aren't many basements in California..."

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"Good...Bye..."

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  • Criminal Mind Games: Oh Boy. The Letters, the code, the stained shirt.
  • Da Chief: Jack Mullinax, Vallejo PD; Ken Narlow, the Napa County Sheriff.
  • Defective Detective: Toschi's self-aggrandizement, ties, and penchant for Animal Crackers give Monk a run for his money.
  • Distant Finale: The last scene takes place in 1991, 8 years after Graysmith finds Leigh at the hardware store. The only person to see the Zodiac without a mask is taken in to see some photographs. He points out the one of Leigh, with a 8 out of 10 assuredness.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul":
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"Call me Leigh. Nobody Calls me Arthur."

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  • Eiffel Tower Effect: The Establishing shot of San Francisco showing the Ferry Building.
    • Later on, the Transamerica pyramid is shown frequently, though it's still under construction.
    • Melvin Belli's St. Francis Wood mansion is shown to have a close view of Downtown San Francisco. In reality, the neighborhood is miles from Downtown and the view is obscured by hills.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Subverted, when hundreds of random citizens report their pet theories to the police.
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Woman: "Have you ever considered the killer might be Paul Avery?"
Tosci: "Frequently."

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    • Also
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Woman: I am the Zodiac.
Armstrong: And how did you kill your victims?
Woman: With a Gun! No wait, with a hammer!

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"Hey, man, you really freaked us out!" ironically, a subversion as he survives.

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    • As well as his third set of victims (second on screen)
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"Everything going to be fine" Then the Zodaic comes back and stabs the couple repeatably, although again the man who said this did actually survive.

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Paul Avery: This...can no longer be ignored, what is it you're drinking.
Graysmith: It's an Aqua Velva. You wouldn't make fun of it if you tried it.
Avery tries a sip of the drink, cut to a table full of empty umbrella drinks.

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"I'm not a reporter, I'm a cartoonist!"

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  • Karma Houdini
  • Morning Routine: Disrupted to show the effect the killer has on the population.
  • Mirror Scare
  • One-Scene Wonder: John Carroll Lynch as Arthur Leigh Allen has a total of about five minutes screen time in a movie that's two and a half hours long, most of that time without dialogue. However, his interrogation scene is guaranteed to leave an impression on you and thanks to Lynch's mannerisms its easy to see why Allen was a prime suspect.
  • Politically-Correct History - Averted, 'negro' is used interchangeably with 'black' in the 60s and 70s.
  • Red Herring: Rick Marshall manages to take up thirty minutes of the movie despite never being seen and not being Zodiac.
    • The Riverside killing. And the attack on the woman on the highway.
      • Many of the Zodiac's letters only repeat information already published in the newspaper, leading investigators to think he's just taking credit for crimes he didn't commit.
  • Sssssnaketalk: "Thisssssss issssss the Zzzzzzzzzodiac ssssssssspeaking..."
  • San Francisco: Shown in all its glory, mercifully free of the usual stereotypes.
  • Scenery Porn: The opening shot of the North Bay on the fourth of July, the sweeping view of San Francisco's waterfront, the skyline at Christmas, the Napa Valley, the interminable darkness of the Central Valley at night...
  • Second Hand Storytelling: The first known murder committed by the Zodiac killer isn't shown in the film due to there being no surviving witnesses. The murder of Cherri Jo Bates also talked about but not shown again due to lack of survivors and due to it happening three years prior to the start of the film.
  • Serial Killer: The Zodiac Killer himself, natch.
  • Show Within a Show: Dirty Harry.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial -
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Graysmith: Hey, does anyone ever call me names?
Paul Avery: You mean like retard?
Graysmith: Yeah.
Paul Avery: No.

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    • As well as when the Zodiac threatens Paul Avery, everyone begins to wear "I am not Paul Avery" buttons, including Paul Avery.
    • And when Leigh is being interviewed by police:
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Leigh: (to police officers) Those knifes with blood on them were from a chicken I killed.
later
Leigh: (to police officers) I'm not the Zodiac, and if I was, I certainly wouldn't tell you.

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  • The End - or Is It?: Graysmith is positive he's found the killer, and Fincher clearly agrees that it's a very convincing case, but the film very deliberatly leaves it open that they might be wrong. John Carrol Lynch plays the assumed killer as just another guy annoyed at being bothered by the police, so you don't judge him as evil simply because he acts evil: you have to decide based on the available facts. Does the evidence stack up or doesn't it?
  • The Sixties (and The Seventies, The Eighties, The Nineties...)
  • Timeshifted Actor
  • Umbrella Drink: Robert's aqua velvas.
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  • Unreliable Expositor: Sherwood? Who was fired from Questioned Documents? Who drinks like Paul Avery?
  • Unperson: Darla's sister seems to drop off the face of the Earth when Graysmith is looking for her, he eventually finds her in a prison.
    • As well and Mike Mageau,the only person to see Zodiac without his mask and live skips town once he's out of the hospital, he comes back at the very end, 22 years after the shooting.
  • We Need to Get Proof: The main challenge when the heroes become convinced that Leigh is the Zodiac. Despite mountains of evidence (the windbreakers, the gloves, the wing-walker boots, the knives, the guns, The Most Dangerous Game, the watch), it could all be dismissed in court as circumstantial.
  • Where Are They Now? Epilogue - Graysmith is happy with his children, Leigh died of a heart attack before the police could charge him with the murders, and Paul Avery died around 2000.
  1. Vallejo PD, SFPD, Napa Sheriff, Solano Sheriff and California DOJ