Films and Society: Film Review – Zodiac

by tybmmjourno

We all read about the Colorado Killer and his hooded rampage. The Dark Knight Rises supposedly gave him an excuse to go firing during a screening without a motive. But this isn’t the first time. There is a long list of english films, like the Child’s Play Series, The Basketball Diaries, The Matrix, Scream and so on, that have instigated crimes in the past.


Since we Indians are so fascinated with the west and have dedicated our lives to aping them in every way possible, such cases are not unknown to our country either. Paranoia is contagious. The incident that occurred in Ahmedabad on July 10th testifies my previous statement. A 16-year-old murdered his older sister in bed and was planning to kill his parents with the same knife, if it wasn’t for his cousins screaming. His justification for the act was that he wanted to kill he family so he could inherit all the money, just like the film Vidhwanshak.

Suddenly, people realize the role that films play in their lives. But the film industry, unfortunately, has criminals to thank for some of their greatest hits. Films based on real life homicide make for good entertainment. Some of these have actually been given high ratings. One such film, The Zodiac (2007), directed by David Fincher was adapted from the book, and nominated for several awards, even the Cannes.

Based on the true story of the killer who identified himself as Zodiac killed 7 people in the San Francisco area and sent letters to the press creating terror in the districts of San Francisco, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the film shows a young cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle who becomes obsessed with finding the identity of Zodiac, long after the police give up hope. The killer, Arthur Leigh Allen, was  pedophile and was thrown out of the school where he was a teacher, for touching children. He killed only the women and left most of the men alive. His killing pattern would constantly change but he never has his fill of media attention. He was suspected to be ambidextrous which made his letters to the editor all the more difficult to trace. He was found to possess two guns and bloody knives. His reason for killing was, as per his first letter to the Chronicle, to collect as many servants as possible that would serve him, once he dies, in paradise.

ImageThe film begins with him killing a friend, Darlene and her boyfriend in 1969 in their car, post which the killer starts sending letter of confession to the leading newspapers, without revealing his true identity. The SFPD soon gets involved but the case seems to be headed nowhere. Each time the police come close to catching the killer, things become more complicated. A reporter at the Chronicle gets a threat letter addressed to him by the Zodiac (possible retaliation to being accused of being a latent homosexual) which involves him in the case so deep that he loses himself. The cartoonist, Jake, somehow does not seem to be satisfied with the justification that the Zodiac is gone, given years of silence from his end. He obsessively begins investigating and trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle. He succeeds in the end, no doubt. However, due to lack of legal evidence and other similar loop holes, Allen is never truly proven guilty. Regardless, Jake writes a book called the Zodiac which becomes a bestseller in a few years. The film ends with Darlene’s boyfriend recognizing Allen as the man who had shot him all those years ago on the 4th of July.

With a promising cast including Mark Ruffalo, Jake Cyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr., the 2 hour 40 minute film makes for a gripping and entertain mystery. 

One wonders if it is he easy access to weapons in the US that makes it easy for a person to carry out his/her psychotic fantasies, if that is the reason for the alarming number of crimes in the country. In India, you need a license to own a gun. But does that really reduce the crime rate? The film Jannat 2 ruled that one out by bringing to light the scandalous illegal arms trade in the capital city. 

We can thus say that it is a two-way street. If people can use films as excuses to commit crimes, films based on crimes turn out to be entertaining.  Children these days do not play, and if they do, it would only be on their expensive computers or cell phones. The games developed by the booming gaming industry can be blamed for the violent entertainment they provide to innocent minds. But are they not the only reason. Would it, thus be right, to brand society as hypocritic, to want entertainment, yet criticize it?

-Disha Deshpande