Book Review: David Fincher’s Zodiac: Cinema of Investigation and (Mis)Interpretation

Thomas Puhr
April 21, 2022
Bright Lights Film Journal

David Fincher’s Zodiac: Cinema of Investigation and (Mis)Interpretation, edited by Matthew Sorrento and David Ryan. 259 pp. Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2022.

2007 was a good year for American film, with the likes of the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men and Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood earning heaps of critical and popular adoration. Coupled with their success at the Academy Awards (the former won four, including for Best Picture; the latter two), the films’ positions as “instant classics” are well cemented.

Somewhat neglected among discussions of this banner year, on the other hand, is David Fincher’s true-crime epic Zodiac; though initially left in its contemporaries’ shadows (as a point of comparison, it received zero nominations), it may very well have aged better than either of them. If Anderson’s and the Coens’ outings were dirges on late capitalism, then Fincher’s was something of a prophecy – one that anticipated the post-truth morass of our digital age. Given this unexpected prescience, Zodiac is ripe for critical reassessment.

Enter David Fincher’s Zodiac: Cinema of Investigation and (Mis)Interpretation, courtesy of editors Matthew Sorrento and David Ryan. What makes this particular film so alluring is its unique position as a literary adaptation, a piece of narrative nonfiction (one based on a still-unsolved case, no less), a self-reflective critique of news and multimedia, and a relatively early exemplar of what digital cameras can do in the right hands. The book mines these and many other critical avenues – from game theory, to death metal – with somewhat inconsistent, but never dull, results. While reading it, I was reminded more than once of Robert Graysmith’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) climactic, fevered conversation with investigator David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) in the diner: “This is a case that’s covered both Northern and Southern California, with victims and suspects spread over hundreds of miles,” he tells Toschi as he struggles to connect the case’s overwhelming number of dots. Like the film itself, this collection has its fingers in many pots, is borderline obsessive, and makes some ambitious connections that may or may not actually be there. But, of course, that’s part of the fun.

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