For me, ‘Zodiac’ was a slow-burning thriller, which is exactly how I enjoy my thrillers to be. The gradual burn took a long time to catch on to me, almost like a fever, and that was only after the second watching. To be honest, even knowing that the murders remain unsolved to this day, I was baffled and confused by the lack of a resolution; any resolution to be honest, even knowing that the murders remain unsolved to this day: such is our force of habit as moviegoers, to at least expect a resolution or conclusion, favorable or not.
Even the film’s slow pace is due to extensive research and procedural and journalistic work, the majority of which does not make it to the screen, as well as the fact that the Zodiac’s activities span decades. It wasn’t until the second, more contemplative viewing that it occurred to me that it was meant to be that way: perplexing, perplexing, and devoid of any concrete sense of resolution, yet somehow imbuing the feeling that this has all been going on for far too long: to reflect exactly how virtually everyone involved in the case felt.
Having seen it a second time, I’m convinced that ‘Zodiac’ is David Fincher’s underappreciated masterpiece, despite all the plaudits it has received over the years. I try not to use the word masterpiece lightly for fear of diminishing its value or significance, but ‘Zodiac’ is a masterpiece, possibly closest in spirit to his other intellectual psychological drama, ‘Mindhunter,’ which I adored without reservation.
If it weren’t for the end credits that begin playing shortly after, you could easily misinterpret the film’s finale as a simple cut in the screenplay, and all of this would just mimic the destiny of the Zodiac case. There was no obvious resolution as it trailed off and faded. As a result, the killer remains unnamed and unapprehended, and the case remains unresolved. For the time being, let’s focus on that ambiguous finish and what it meant for the characters and the Zodiac. Continue reading.
Zodiac Ending, Explained
Instead of going over the entire story again, which would simply double the length of this article, we rewind our clocks to the point in the film near the end when Robert Graysmith, after reaching certain conclusions from his own amateur investigation into the case and a little help from inspector Dave Toschi, arrives at Bob Vaughn’s house after being tipped off by Wallace Penny about the zodiac killer being Rick Marshall, arrives at Bob Vaughn’s house. He discovers that Vaughn and Marshall used to work as projectionists at The Avenue theater in San Francisco, where Marshall occasionally designed and drew posters for the films on display, one of which is ‘The Most Dangerous Game,’ a film whose dialogue “man is the most dangerous animal of all” is quoted by the Zodiac several times in his letters to the press. Graysmith also receives confirmation that the writing on the posters was the closest match to the handwritings in the Zodiac letters that they had ever received. The narrative thickens, and we move on to the film’s creepiest sequence.
Was Bob Vaughn a suspect? What of Rick Marshall?
Watch how this one scene plays out, following Bob Vaughn taking Graysmith to his house to chat about Rick Marshall, to get a sense of how frustratingly complicated and dead-ended this case was. Rick Marshall’s employment at the Avenue Theatre, the poster in question, and “Rick’s Handwriting” are discussed, as well as how he left a film canister at Vaughn’s house and urged him not to open it. At this point, it is discovered that the posters were never created by the artist.
Marshall, and that Vaugh was the one who drew them, giving Graysmith the shock of his life, given that he could have been face to face with the Zodiac assassin right then and there. The fact that Vaughn goes into his basement to examine theater records adds to the suspicion, as does the Zodiac’s reference of a basement in one of his letters, limiting down the possibilities since not many people in California possessed basements.
The Zodiac case was all about matching fingerprints with those left on the scene of the cab driver’s murder, and matching handwriting with that received in the letters, as voiced by one of the characters in the film, and rather annoyingly right. Because neither is a concrete foundation to begin with, over 2500 suspects, including Marshall, were ruled out on that basis. Vaugh definitely categorizes at least one of them, as his handwriting was the closest match ever, but he was never suspected! Interestingly, despite being a main suspect, Marshall does not have a face in the film and never appears on screen. Instead, Fincher enables Bob Vaughn to direct a terrifyingly suspenseful scene in his basement, which utterly throws the viewer off track, much as Graysmith does.
Because nothing about this case can be said for certain, my take is that Vaughn could have been one of the suspects, but the entire event plays out the way it did because of Graysmith’s anxiety. He was so far into the investigation and eager for a last straw for a clue that a hint that he might have been thinking in the wrong route absolutely throws him off and gets the best of him, to the point that he flees the flat hastily. To be fair, Vaughn did act frighteningly weird at this point in the film, as if he was aware that his cover had been exposed and that psychologically torturing Graysmith was giving him pleasure. You’ll understand what I mean if you turn off the tremendously unsettling score that just serves to amplify Graysmith’s paranoia and overwhelm you as well.
Was Arthur Leigh Allen the Zodiac?
Even in its ostensibly open-ended conclusion, the film leaves little space for doubt, presenting Arthur Leigh Allen as the major suspect and possibly the Zodiac as well. Because this is a movie website and not a crime reporting website, we must proceed with caution. Even while the film has been universally praised for its realism, we will strive to keep the essence of our explanation focused on the movie version of it, regardless of whether it happened in real life or not.
Now, after fleeing Bob Vaughn’s house in terror, Graysmith continues his investigation and meets with Linda, the sister of Darlene Ferrin, the first confirmed Zodiac victim, where she confirms that Leigh knew Darlene before she was killed, furthering his suspicions, knowing that someone c alled Darlene’s family in the middle of the night after killing her, breathing heavily on the phone, furthering his suspicions. Furthermore, Graysmith is able to confirm for himself and Dave Toschi that Allen is the killer after digging up records and discovering Allen’s date of birth to be December 18th, the same day Melvin Belli received a call at his home from the zodiac killer, claiming he wanted to kill because it was his birthday.
The two new pieces of evidence, when combined with the previously discovered evidence against him, such as him wearing a Zodiac watch, the same Wind Walker boots as the Zodiac at the murder near Lake Berryessa, him mentioning the book ‘The Most Dangerous Game,’ and revealing that he had bloody knives on his car seat to kill chickens that he ate, almost confirms his involvement with the murders.
Despite the significant evidence, the police were unable to make an arrest due to a lack of physical evidence, including no fingerprint or handwriting matches, despite the fact that the zodiac is usually known to be ambidextrous. Graysmith, on the other hand, follows him to the Ace Hardware Store in Vallejo, where he confronts him non-verbally, as I explain in the next section.
The film concludes with Mike Mageau, a survivor of the Zodiac’s first verified attack, positively recognizing Allen as the man who shot him from police mugshots 22 years after the attack. While the film does not explicitly identify him as the Zodiac, this final piece of evidence is highly incriminating, putting him at the top of the suspect list. Arthur Leigh Allen, on the other hand, was never apprehended due to a lack of physical proof and the rest of the evidence being just circumstantial. He died before the investigation could be closed, and a committee was set up to investigate him after Mageau’s statement.
The Ace Hardware Store Confrontation in Vallejo
This is perhaps one of my favorite parts from the entire movie, however it’s unclear whether it happened in real life. Regardless, this is a powerful sequence, expertly performed by the two actors involved, with not a single misplaced facial expression. As follows, the scene conspires: Graysmith follows Leigh Allen to a Vallejo hardware store and pays him a visit. The date is shown to be February 1980 on an undisclosed day. As Robert approaches Allen, the latter inquires if there is anything he can do to assist him.
Robert flatly refuses at this moment, staring him down in the eyes. Allen’s polite smile fades, giving way to bitterness and, dare I say, a teeny-tiny trace of terror. The two men continue to exchange glances for a few moments before Robert exits the room and the screen fades to black. Depending on whether you believe Leigh Allen is the Zodiac or not, this may go one of two ways. If you don’t, this scenario is just another awkward conversation, with more of Robert’s paranoia and the other party entirely oblivious to what’s going on. If you believe him to be the murderer, though, things become diametrically fascinating. I’ll let a line from earlier in the video, spoken by Robert himself when asked about his obsessive compulsive drive to hunt down and find the Zodiac, explain what it was about.
“I need to know who he is. I need to stand there, I need to look him in the eye and I need to know that it’s him.”
That’s all there was to it! In his thoughts, Leigh Allen was already the murderer, and with a single glance, he tells Allen that he knows, which explains the teeny-tiny bit of terror and complete shift in expression on Allen’s face. Graysmith does not rely on the judiciary or the police for a decision at this time. He believes he has figured it out based on his own extensive research, and this is his moment of success, but one that will only provide him with the inert gratification he needs to get on with his life and finish his book, as his wife has strongly advised. It’s worth noting that the part about Allen’s reaction turning pallid only applies if Allen is the Zodiac. This makes sense because the Zodiac, if it was the true one, knew Graysmith. Do you recall his house’s heavy breathing calls?
Were there two Killers?
The hypothesis that there were two Zodiacs hasn’t been ruled out fully due to the unusually long length of time over which the case stretched and the surprising lack of any proof, or rather the confusing presence of one too many pointing in all directions. Now, whether the two were connected or not is a different set of hypotheses that I’d prefer avoid. It’s also possible that the Zodiac killer merely penned the first batch of letters to the press, with the rest being handled by someone else in order to maintain the media frenzy.
Another option that hasn’t been ruled out is that, because the Zodiac’s method of operation is unknown, any number of unsolved murders may be attributed to the Zodiac, implying the possibility of copycat crimes. According to the cipher letters and the police, only seven incidents have been proven as Zodiac attacks so far, five of them were fatal. However, the Zodiac’s continuous series of letters and emails claimed to have killed more than 37 people, which has yet to be substantiated. When Robert Grayson is in the middle of a case, he says, “Gotta be two killers, one has the map, the other murders,” referring to the absence of evidence at even the crime scenes.
Do you want to learn more about how the Zodiac killings become one of the most perplexing unsolved cases in US criminal history? Even now, there are distinct webpages and blogs dedicated to tracking out the Zodiac killer. I know it’s unbelievable, but a simple internet search will reveal them.
The consequences of this chain of events are detailed in the credit cards that follow. Following his period of retirement from the press and substance abuse after the Zodiac made a threat on his life, Paul Avery died of pulmonary emphysema, according to the story. Following his years of service, David Toschi retired in 1989 and was awarded a clean bill of health in regards to his involvement in the writing of one of the Zodiac letters.
Robert Graysmith finished his novel, which became a bestseller, and reconnected with his family. According to reports, the most well-known prime suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen, died of cardiac death just before a committee agreed to arrest him after Mageau identified him as the gunman. Due to a lack of tangible physical evidence against the now deceased Allen or any of the other suspects, the SFPD deemed the case inactive. Interestingly, more over five decades after the first verified Zodiac attack, the case is still active in Solano, Napa, and Vallejo.
‘Zodiac’ is admittedly more of a criminal procedural than a psychological inquiry, but it does a good job of recording two important aspects of the case, the police investigation and the press’s involvement, as well as providing us a glance inside the awful killings. The majority of what is shown is based on true facts, with some dramatization and artistic license, and shown in a very straightforward manner; little is left to the imagination, with the exception of who the killer is, which is a crucial part of my Zodiac viewing experience. It’s perplexing at times, irritating at others, and may prove to be a pain in the neck for those who prefer concise and unambiguous ends. Those who can handle a little bit of uncertainty will undoubtedly agree with me that ‘Zodiac’ ranks alongside ‘Se7en’ and ‘Fight Club’ as one of his best works. I praised such films for their scripts and emotional effect, but I didn’t call them masterpieces. This one is without a doubt. Do you have an unpopular opinion? Sure, but it’s one that’s been honed through a number of viewings. I recommend that you do the same!
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