The Zodiac

The Zodiac, directed by Alexander Bulkley, is an independent film that seeks to dramatize events that began in Vallejo, Northern California, on December 22, 1968, when a teenage boy and girl were shot and killed on their first date while parked near Hansen Dam. The Zodiac killer, as the serial murderer was later known, was never apprehended despite thirty-seven admitted killings that stopped in 1979. The focus of the film is on Sergeant Matt Parish (played by Justin Chambers), the police officer to which the original killings were assigned–his police methods, his boss, his personality, his spouse, and his young son. In a formulaic manner, he pushes his authority too far, becomes an alcoholic, is demoted by his boss, is hated by his wife, yet gains respect from his son. Some details of the killings are revealed, such as the tendency to slay late teens on a date with marksman accuracy, to write strange notes to the police, and to telephone the police to direct their attention to the latest corpses. The film ends when Zodiac takes a taxi to San Francisco, kills the cabdriver, and presumably starts to find more victims in the big city. The apparent point of the film appears at the end, when a voiceover from Zodiac anticlimactically says that he will change his ways as soon as a film is made about his exploits, that is, presumably in his honor. But that means that the film has come too late, as the killing has ceased, and Zodiac may be dead. The police officer’s obsessive behavior leads him to rough up innocent people, even causing a death, despite instructions from his boss to follow police procedure, but of course The Zodiac is a retake of Dirty Harry (1971). The role of the press, as is now common, is to exploit the events and provoke hysteria rather than investigative reporting. A psychiatrist, when interviewed, speculates the familiar canard that Zodiac’s problems stem from his relationship with his mother, thereby casting doubt on the professionalism of psychiatry. But the whodunit inherent in the story is left for filmviewers outside the film, which ends with the suggestion that Zodiac is still alive and resembles a nerd. The cinematic montage of events in the late 1960s suggests that the filmmaker attributes Zodiac’s insanity to a time when young men went off to a meaningless war in Vietnam, some returned with serious mental problems; the young people who were slain possibly represented what Zodiac missed because he was drafted after graduation from high school, received military training, behaved with some heroism in Vietnam, but found hostility to his military service when he returned home, possible disfigured or disabled, to find anti-war sentiment on college campuses and in the streets. The Zodiac, in short, may seem anachronistic in 2006 unless interpreted as a paradigm for governmental vigilantism that goes so far overboard in pursuing terrorists that innocent people have to suffer. If the rough production seems unsatisfactory despite the potential for a better story, filmviewers will doubtless await Zodiac, directed by David Fincher, which was released in early 2007 featuring actors with star quality. MH

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