‘Zodiac’ was a slow burner experience for me, just as I like my thrillers to be. Amusingly so, the slow burn took its fair share of time till it caught on to me almost as a fever, and that too in the second viewing. In the first viewing, I am forced to admit that I was simply baffled and confused by the lack of a certain resolution; any resolution to be honest, even knowing that the murders remain unsolved till date: such is our force of habit as filmgoers, to at least expect a resolution or conclusion, favourable or not. Even the glacial pace of the film, partly owing to the in-depth research and procedural and journalistic activity, most of which finds its way to the screen, and to the duration of the Zodiac’s activity stretching over decades altogether. It didn’t occur to me until the second, more contemplative viewing that it was intended to be as such: confusing, baffling, and without any concrete sense of resolution, yet somehow imbuing the feeling that this has all been going on for far too long: to reflect exactly what virtually everyone involved with the case felt.
Following this second viewing, I come out reformed, and in my opinion, ‘Zodiac’ is David Fincher’s underrated masterpiece, even despite all the praise it has drawn over the years. I do not throw around the word masterpiece a lot, for fear of bringing down its value or significance, but ‘Zodiac’ truly is, perhaps closest in the vein of his other cerebral psychological drama that I loved beyond any sort of admission, ‘Mindhunter’.
The film just trails off in its final bits, without a very definitive end or a dramatic narrative pause: you could easily construe its ending as a simple cut in the screenplay if it wasn’t for the end credits that start playing shortly after, and all of that just mirrors the fate of the Zodiac case. It trailed off and faded with no clear resolution. The killer thereby remains unidentified and uncaught till date, and the case, unsolved. For now, let’s delve deeper into that dubious ending and what that meant, the fate of the characters and the Zodiac. Read on.
The Ending, Explained
Instead of going over the whole narrative again, that would simply double up the length of this article, we rewind our clocks to the point in the film towards the end when Robert Graysmith, upon reaching certain conclusions from his own amateur investigation into the case and a little help from inspector Dave Toschi, arrives at the house of Bob Vaughn after being tipped off by Wallace Penny about the zodiac killer being Rick Marshall. He finds that Vaughn and Marshall used to work at The Avenue theatre in San Francisco as projectionists, wherein Marshall occasionally designed and drew posters for the film on display, notable among them being ‘The Most Dangerous Game’, a film whose dialogue “man is the most dangerous animal of all” is used repeatedly by the Zodiac in his letters to the press. Furthermore, Graysmith even receives confirmation that the writing on the posters was the closest match that they had ever received on the handwritings in the Zodiac letters. The plot thickens, and we move onwards to the creepiest scene in the film.
Was Bob Vaughn a suspect? What of Rick Marshall?