Saturday, March 03, 2007

Very late last night, following a late showing of Zodiac, I woke up following a dream that someone was pounding on the door to our apartment.

I imagined what I would do. It's real late at night. I'd leave the lights off, crawl to the door of the bedroom, see if the motion light has come on outside; if so, I'll be able to see out better than they can see in. There's a phone nearby, too.

Then I started to imagine that I'm looking at who's knocking on our door in the middle of the night, and it's the Zodiac Killer. He's wearing his hood and holding a length of rope.

There's no way out of the apartment, in that case. It's a second-story garage apartment. Aside from the door, we have windows to jump from and a trap door in the closet leading to the laundry room. If the Zodiac Killer breaks down the front door we wouldn't have enough time to make either of those options work.

At this point my pulse was up, and I was wide awake, and I didn't fall asleep again for a while.


I don't want to be thought of as a true-crime fetishist, someone who carries around the morbid details of other people's tragedies, but I do know Robert Graysmith's book pretty well, having read it multiple times (I've also read The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier and Clay, The Corrections, Life Of Pi, The Virgin Suicides, and To Kill A Mockingbird multiple times each, and know them pretty well, too). David Fincher and his collaborators know exactly what's terrifying about this story; their film is great.

What's terrifying is the details. Murders are, obviously, scary in and of themselves. The letters and phone calls following the killings are also creepy. But it's the smaller pieces of information, and the blank spots where there should be more information, that are more unsettling. That someone put together a series of elaborate (and/or gibberish) codes; that he left his house one day carrying rope, a knife, a gun, and a black hood and medallion; that he hid behind a tree to put the costume on, and that he did this in view of his victims; that he blocked people's escape, with his car or body; that he stopped to scribble a message on the car door of people he's just attacked; that police officers let him walk right past, and would have seen him covered in blood if they'd only turned their car's flashlight on him.

The film revels in such details (the Village Voice writer was right-on in calling it "an orgy of empiricism"); they're so compelling, and unsettling, that there's no reason or need to depart from or expand upon them. There's no speculation on the killer's personality, no attempt to explain his motives or actions (the one character who does, the lawyer Melvin Belli, is played by Brian Cox as a pompous jackass). There is only a pile of information.

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