Friday, April 25, 2014

Game of Thrones: The Problem With Normalising Sexual Violence

TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion about rape, including a couple confronting images from Game of Thrones (R 18+). 

DISCLAIMER: This review only concerns Jaime and Cersei of Game of Thrones' "Breaker of Chains" and does not contain spoilers for any other parts Season Four. No other characters' plotlines from Season 4 are mentioned. If that's ok with you, proceed. 

Ok. I wasn't going to jump on this bandwagon because I thought there were enough articles out there, but now that I've read about twenty I've hardly found any that get to the heart of why depicting sexual violence against women on Game of Thrones (or any TV show, for that matter) is a serious problem. 

If you're not up to speed, here's the lowdown: in the latest episode of Game of Thrones, Jaime Lannister rapes his sister Cersei, with whom he had previously been having a consensual relationship. 

A huge, huge problem is that not everyone is viewing this scene is a rape, when GODAMMIT IT CLEARLY WAS. I quote Allyson Keene of Collider, who assumed that: "Jaime and Cersei [were] having violent but passionate grief sex(full article here, SPOILERS BEWARE).

And the director of the episode himself, Alex Graves: "It becomes consensual by the end"
(full article here

Honestly, you have to be pretty fucked up to not see that a woman sobbing and saying "no" while a man forces himself onto her is rape.

Moving on the issue of rape-as-a-plot-device in it's entirety (for a definition of "plot device" and why it's lazy writing, click here), this article: "We Need to Talk About Jaime" (SPOILERS IN THE LINK) says it best, particularly this quote, about a different character: 

"The sexualization of [Arya's] character through rape threats was completely unnecessary."

The reason everyone has blown up about the Jaime/Cersei scene is not because violence as a plot device is a problem. If it was a problem we wouldn't be watching the show at all. What is a problem is the constant, unnecessary, objectified sexualisation of female characters for cheap plot devices, or for no reason at all. 

Some people have argued that this scene is to remind the audience that Jaime, who viewers have begun to like, is actually a bad guy after all. I can understand this, but why does it have to come at Cersei's expense? Cersei is a complex character who a lot of viewers tend to hate (because she can be pretty awful). But she is powerful, and her power is what drives her and makes her dangerous and compelling. What made the writers decide to render her powerless by way of sexual violence? The cheap plot device here is using rape as a way to quickly give the audience a way of sympathising with an unlikeable character. 

On a similar note, it can be argued that seeing the brutal, sadistic way Joffrey treats prostitutes helps the audience understand his character and how awful he is - but this comes at the terrible, terrible expense of not only the prostitute characters, but the actresses as well. Last time I checked, the scene where he forces two girls to beat each other while he watches didn't advance THEIR character development. Sure, some characters have to be used as pawns for another character's growth, but when you are doing it over and over again by means of sexual violence ... you are treading in dangerous territory. This is not about what works in a story. This is about popular culture normalising rape culture. 

Women are more than their bodies. Women are more than sexual objects. If the men can be seen as more than that, why not the female characters too? I am sick of watching this show take all of it's powerful, well-developed female archetypes and reducing them to worthless aside from their sexuality. 

  • Brienne defies the oppression against women and becomes a knight, only to be seen as nothing but female body parts there for the brutal taking once captured.
  • Sansa is continuously referred to as a child (and she is - 14), yet is still a target for rape - she is almost gang-raped by a group of strangers in the city in Season 2. Not even the fact that the actress was under eighteen at the time of filming stopped the writers from sexualising her character. In a previous scene, her husband-to-be instructs a knight to tear her clothes in front of a whole court and threatens to kill her with a crossbow (Joffrey later does kill someone with a crossbow, the aftermath of which is shown in graphic, sexualised detail. See further down.) 
  • Danaerys is sold as a teenage bride to a man twice her age and three times her size, and repeatedly raped by him until she figures out how to fulfil his needs in a way that doesn't leave her brutalised. 

This continuous usage of rape as quick way to move to the next part of the plot or provide second-hand development for ANOTHER CHARACTER is not ok. All of these scenes are subtle (and not so sublte) nods towards stripping a woman of her power. Why is it ok for this to happen to LITERALLY EVERY FUCKING MAIN FEMALE CHARACTER ON THE SHOW? As mentioned above, even 13-year-old Arya is threatened with rape! She is powerless unless disguised as a boy. 

I'm sure a few people will argue that the show does depict sexual violence against men - Theon Greyjoy has been subject to this for a while. I don't condone this either but I will point out that A) his character has always been depicted as powerless, with or without the attempted rape and B) he is one man of tens on the show. Make of that what you will.

And that's not even mentioning all the rest of the non-violent objectification of women. I'm sorry, but if you're putting tit shots in one scene and a rape in the next, where are you drawing the line between what's acceptable and what's not? Doesn't one image enhance the other? How are you supposed to feel when a character is presented as this (first image) in one scene and this (second image - CONFRONTING) in another?

If you're confused about what falls under the definition of rape culture: THIS DOES.

Here is a quote by Mary McGill that backs up my points: "The simple truth is this: objectification hurts women. It silences our voices, paints over our thoughts, stamps out our souls, leaving a mute, blank canvas onto which our culture can project some of its darkest stereotypes and myths. When we raise women to see themselves only as things to be desired by men and to judge themselves accordingly, as if nothing else about them truly matters, we are committing a terrible wrong." (full article here)

I'll conclude by adding that I can't say rape is a no-go for stories at all. Rape is something real, scary as that may be, and you have to be able to write about real things (feel free to ask me about Veronica Mars or The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo if you want examples for justified usage). However, using rape as a cheap plot device that results in nothing but unnecessary sexualisation of a character is not okay. People, and characters, should not be defined solely by their ability to be objectified. 

By all means, argue my points. But I won't stand by and see my gender be made less of for the sake of "story". Writers, you can do better, and you should. Half your viewers of Game of Thrones are women. I don't know why we're even still watching, but I guess we're used to putting up with this shit. Because we have to deal with it in real life, too. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

How I Live Now

DISCLAIMER: I haven't read the book. Don't hate on me. 

Based on the eponymous novel by Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now is the latest to jump on the Young Adult adaptation bandwagon and, following in the footsteps of other dystopian and apocalyptic themed stories, this one's set during the onset of a fictional World War III.

Given the film's potentially high-concept logline, the plot itself is almost disappointingly simple. 16-year-old New Yorker Elizabeth (who, if you don't mind, prefers to be known as Daisy - played by the talented Saoirse Ronan) is sent to stay with her cousins for a summer in the English countryside after her father remarries. These cousins are ragtag hooligans in Daisy's initial opinion, but once she finally settles in the world is turned upside down following a nuclear explosion in London. Daisy and her youngest cousin Piper (Harley Bird) are separated from Piper's brothers (George MacKay and Tom Holland) and must find their way back to them whilst trying to survive in what is now a dangerous, military overrun territory. 

The film is typically teenage - Ronan plays the supercilious stereotype until she warms to her well-meaning cousins, hitting all the expected plot points of young love, complete with a catchy soundtrack. The cinematography is genre-appropriate with a beautiful, vibrant colour palette. However there are some oddities that separate How I Live Now from its predecessors, not many of which are advantageous. I was curious about the film once I realised it had been rated MA15+, unusual given the demographic of viewers - which I assume to be 13-17-year-old females. The protagonists are on the younger side in the novel and have subsequently been bumped up a few years to justify the language and violence that go far and beyond the level of intensity in, say, The Hunger Games. Shocking moments - a young character's violent death, a teenager shooting two people, frightening dream sequences and more dead bodies and f*** you's than we asked for - burst forth between long lulls, more uncomfortable than rational. 

The countryside setting gives off a 28-Days-Later-esque vibe, intensifying the obvious imbalance of both pace and content. The second half rockets at twice the speed of the first, and the character relationships (last time I checked, cousins kissing each other is otherwise known as incest??) make Katniss and Peeta look mature. 

Overall the biggest downfall is, as usual, character development. Daisy is given just enough traits for Ronan to make her vaguely interesting, but not enough for us to really invest in her. With a film title such as How I Live Now, one would expect to see the Before, but the story starts too late and never gives us any flashbacks to Daisy's life in America, dulling our impression of her character growth. We're left distracted by minor details like wishing the gem Tom Holland had more screen time or how Ronan unfortunately doesn't get to perform in her native Irish accent. In the end, How I Live Now leaves you wanting, but you're not exactly sure what for. 

VERDICT: Teenage fans of 28 Days Later, Tomorrow When The War Began or The Hunger Games franchise will want to catch this one on the big screen, however the lack of thrilling action sequences merits a miss until DVD for the rest of us. See Catching Fire instead, especially if you're a young viewer.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Zodiac: A Case Study (2007)
Directed by David Fincher. Screenplay by James Vanderbilt. 

Development and Pre-Production
It was the film that writer James Vanderbilt had always wanted to make. A story about obsession that became the obsession of many, both those involved in the original events and in the making of the film. The film is Zodiac, a procedural crime drama based on the serial killer of the same name, who terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area from 1968 through to the early 1970s.
The Zodiac's letter to The Examiner, 31st July 1969
On December 20th, 1968, the “Zodiac” (then unnamed) shot and killed David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen on Lake Herman Road in Benicia, California. He killed again on the 4th of July, shooting Darlene Ferrin in her car at Blue Rock Springs in the neighboring suburb of Vallejo. Also in the car and shot multiple times was Mike Mageau, who managed to survive the attack. Later that night the Zodiac made a phone call to the police, alerting them of and taking responsibility for the murder.[1] A month later, the Zodiac sent three anonymous letters to three different newspapers in the area, taking credit for the shootings and including a cipher in each letter. It was at one of these newspapers, the San Francisco Chronicle, that 27-year-old political cartoonist Robert Graysmith took an interest in the case and attempted to decode the ciphers. This interest spiraled into an obsession over the Zodiac killer that swallowed Graysmith for the next seventeen years. In 1986 his book Zodiac was published, detailing his experience in becoming an amateur investigator and his theories on who the Zodiac killer was. In turn the book engulfed American schoolboys Shane Salerno and James Vanderbilt.
Shane Salerno, who is now a hugely successful screenwriter, read Zodiac at age 14. Despite his mother confiscating the book Salerno was inspired by the story. He managed to meet Robert Graysmith and acquired the film rights from him at just 19 years old. At 24, Salerno set up a 7-figure deal for Zodiac with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures.[2] Though they took the deal, Disney seemed hesitant to take it into production and so it sat under option for several years.
Similarly James Vanderbilt read the book in high school in 1992 and had always been fascinated with the story, in particular the idea of a cartoonist becoming obsessed with a serial killer[3]. In 2002 producer Brad Fischer of Phoenix Pictures approached Vanderbilt during the filming of Basic (written by Vanderbilt), and asked him what his dream projects were. Vanderbilt told him about Zodiac, and how unfortunately he couldn’t have it as it sat untouched in the hands of Touchstone.[4]
Fischer soon discovered that Disney had recently let the rights lapse. The film was destined to be a high-rated period piece with an unhappy ending, and Fischer guessed that this was why Disney wasn’t jumping for the project. He called Vanderbilt and they contacted Graysmith, who agreed to give them the rights.[5] Also adding his support to the production was Mike Medavoy of Phoenix Pictures, so Zodiac was now on its way.[6]
Vanderbilt wanted to write a script without the interference of a studio, and told Phoenix Pictures that he would write it as a spec script, while they optioned the book rights[7]. Phoenix approved, which also gave Vanderbilt the power to allow or deny the script to Phoenix’s director of choice. This process worked well for Phoenix as it meant they could pay Vanderbilt less but ensure his dedication to the story. Zodiac was the successful starting point for this process, which Fischer and Medavoy used again for later films like Shutter Island.[8] Vanderbilt also came on as a producer for the film.
As Vanderbilt wrote the script he was determined to stick closely to the real events of the case. His commitment to the story was matched by David Fincher, who came on board as director. The decision to write Graysmith as the main character was brought on by Vanderbilt’s desire to write something that was more than an average serial killer movie. He wanted to avoid the typical clear resolution of other films in the genre and move into a different territory.[9] The idea that the script was now more of a newspaper film than a serial killer one appealed to Fincher. Graysmith was a cartoonist who became fascinated, then obsessed with the Zodiac case, and this idea of obsession clung to Vanderbilt and Fincher. Together they began what was essentially their own investigation of the Zodiac killer.
Fincher on set of Zodiac
For Fincher this would be his sixth feature film. His previous serial killer movie Se7en was one of the reasons that Vanderbilt and Fischer went for Fincher first as director[10], even though they knew thatZodiac would be a different kind of story. Where the fictional Se7en has a logical narrative, the killer’s motivations clear, Zodiac is cryptic, leaving the characters floundering, unable to figure out where or if he will strike again.  Both films bring to light the obsession of the killers and leave them subject to analysis.
Fincher, Vanderbilt and Fischer spent the next two years tracking down as many people as they could who were connected to the Zodiac case.[11] What was the closest thing to the truth? The difficult part was the ending - the Zodiac killer was never caught, and even now the case lies open. They decided to stick to the facts wherever possible and the drive for telling the story was to end it with an emotional closure for the characters rather than a plot closure. Graysmith’s book and the eventual film pointed to suspect Arthur Leigh Allen as the man most likely to be Zodiac’s identity. Fischer agreed that he could see how people might make the jump that the film was accusing Allen of being Zodiac, but it was what Graysmith had advocated and the film would follow that. Vanderbilt said of this, ‘This is the conclusion that [our characters] arrived at. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what we believe, that that’s the truth, but that’s what our characters believe is the truth. And so hopefully we’ve done a good job of that and been responsible in doing it.’[12]
Vanderbilt also decided that whenever the Zodiac was to be seen on screen, it would only be because there was a surviving witness or police evidence that detailed what had happened at the scene.[13] The first murder of David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen is not shown in the film because both of them died, and Vanderbilt felt there was not enough evidence about what had really happened there to do the scene justice. The film then opens on the 4th of July, 1969, when 19-year-old Mike Mageau gets into Darlene Ferrin’s car.

Scene Breakdown: Blue Rock Springs
The opening tracking shot of the film looks out onto the street from inside a Chevrolet Corvair as 22-year-old Darlene Ferrin drives to pick up Mike from his house. Fireworks light up the sky behind rows of suburban houses. It’s a warm night; kids play with sparklers on the front lawns and parents pack up after barbecue dinners. This shot was first attempted by towing the Corvair along the road, but Fincher (working with his The Game DOP Harris Savides) wanted a completely stable rig to give the shot a sense of detachment.[1] The impossibly smooth drive down the street introduces us to a world that, right now, is almost utopian. This is the calm before the storm, the normalcy before the violence.
Mike gets in the car and they drive off together. They pass through the parking lot of Mr. Ed’s Burgers & Fries, and even though Darlene had said she was starving, she doesn’t want to stay there. Mike is confused, but agrees when Darlene suggests they go somewhere quiet instead.
The Corvair then pulls into the near-empty parking lot at Blue Rock Springs Park, a place known as a ‘lovers’ lane’. The crew had checked out the real Blue Rock Springs as a shooting location, but realised that the place had changed too much since the events in 1969. Through the detailed police sketches of the crime scene they found a different location nearby that was much similar to the real park. Mike seems anxious, possibly about Darlene’s sudden interest in coming to this intimate spot. Darlene notices that Mike is wearing a ridiculous amount of clothing for summer in Vallejo. Vanderbilt and costume designer Casey Storm felt this was an important detail to note.[2] Storm duplicated the real Mageau’s outfit, as well as the patterned jumpsuit worn by Ferrin. Some theories as to why Mageau was wearing so many sweaters and pairs of pants included that he was a small guy and tried to bulk himself out, or that he possibly knew something was going to happen to him that night and layered up to protect himself, but the real reason was never confirmed.[3]
  As Darlene and Mike talk, a few other teenagers drive away in their truck and set off the last of their fireworks in the direction of the Corvair, startling Mike, who sticks his head out the window and yells, ‘Fuck off and die!’. Darlene smirks and teases him for this exclamation. As they laugh over it, the song Hurdy Gurdy Man drifts on to the radio. Another car rolls into the parking lot and slows to a stop just behind them. Mike recognises the car as being at Mr. Ed’s earlier. Darlene is suddenly quiet, tense. As the car drives away Mike turns to her and says, ‘Was that your husband?’ She says it wasn’t, but she seems to know who it might be. She tells a concerned Mike not to worry about it, but just then the car turns around with a screech of tires and comes straight back towards them. The couple turn around to look through the back windscreen and the headlights beam into their faces as the car parks directly behind them. The Corvair is trapped in its parking spot. A man gets out of the mysterious car. Mike, guessing that it’s a policeman, pulls out his wallet, looks up into the stranger’s torch light and says, ‘Man, you really creeped us out.’
Bullets fly from a gun that seems to appear out of nowhere and the diegetic music from the radio bursts into a non-diegetic piece at the climax of the song. Blood spatters on the windscreen as Mike and Darlene are sprayed with bullets. The attacker leaves in a hurry, only to realise that Mike is still alive. He comes back for another round and Mike pushes himself over the seat into the back of the car to try and get away. The attacker shoots them both twice more and the left indicator of the car blinks on as Darlene slumps in the front seat. The scene fades to black.
Vanderbilt said of the dialogue and events in this scene that it was difficult to confirm what was truth and what was speculation. Upon retelling, Mageau was unsure of certain details such as whether there had been a silencer on the gun or whether they had been followed since Ed’s Burgers. Vanderbilt knew there was only so much truth he could really be certain about and that some things would of course have to be left up to the interpretation of the filmmakers doing the best they could with the information available. [4]
Actors Lee Norris and Ciara Hughes play Mike and Darlene. It was decided from Vanderbilt’s very first draft that the murder scene would be played out as realistically as possible so as not to cheapen the real events by adding a horror-movie feel to the scenes. David Fincher blocked the scene very precisely, including showing Norris how to launch himself over the seat of the car and scramble into the back.[5] Norris and Hughes’ performances are chilling; their dialogue gives clues along the way as to what is going to happen without the typical horror film clichés such as the car not starting or the couple being unsuspecting of an attack because they’re too caught up in kissing.
The scene was initially cut to the song All Is Loneliness by Big Brother & The Holding Company, which Fincher felt was a very beautiful track and fit the scene well, but he was encouraged to test all the possibilities and eventually landed with Hurdy Gurdy Man by Donovan. Fincher said when he heard the song that it transported him back to the summer of 1969 as a kid, and he felt an emotional connection to the song when he saw it over those images.[6]
The cinematography in this sequence is made mostly of tight shots within the car. We only see the killer’s car through the windows of the Corvair the way Mike and Darlene see it, until it returns a second time and parks behind them. We catch first the beaming headlights and then the glare of the killer’s torch as he switches it on, virtually blinding the couple as they stare out the back windscreen. Darlene switches on the Corvair’s headlights as she searches for her wallet. In a wide shot from the front of her car, three round lights beam down the barrel of the camera, anticipating the gun barrel that’s about to be pointed at Mike’s head. 
Moments after the fade to black, we are brought back to the scene and some hours have passed. A policeman drives up on a motorcycle and assess the situation. Mike is still alive and lying against the back wheel of the car in a pool of blood. Darlene is still in the front seat, barely breathing. Over the top of these images is the chilling voiceover of the killer making a 911 call and explaining what he has done. The picture and sound cuts off with a final, eerie ‘Gooood bye….’

The Film
 Four weeks later, single father and cartoonist Robert Graysmith (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) makes his way to the San Francisco Chronicle. This opening sequence alternates back and forth between Robert’s daily routine of getting his son to school and himself to work, and the morning routine of the mail being sorted and distributed within the Chronicle building. This morning, however, unbeknownst at this point to both the audience and the characters, a letter from the killer himself has made its way into the editorial mail cart. The sequence accentuates the importance of these two seemingly insignificant events and how the collision of Robert and the mysterious killer’s cipher would change his life forever. During the editorial meeting we are introduced to editor Templeton Peck, publisher Charles Thierot, and crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr), but all through the eyes of Robert. We meet them but we know them only as Robert’s superiors who hold the power to make the decisions on how to handle the letter. The killer threatens to shoot twelve people if they do not publish it, and signs his letter not with a name but with a strange symbol that looks suspiciously like a gun sight. As the others work out what to do, Robert sits quietly in the corner and copies out the enclosed cipher to his notebook before being sent away to finish his cartoon. On his way back to his desk he catches Paul Avery making a phone call to Vallejo Police Department, who confirm the previous killings that the letter describes in detail. They decide to print it on page 4 and then Avery heads to the pub with a few of the other staff members. Robert passes by the door of Morti’s on his way home and sees them drinking together, but feels uninvited despite Avery’s open announcement to everyone standing in the room at the time. Compared to the rest of the staff, Robert is a young inexperienced kid who draws cartoons instead of contributing real material like everyone else does. And this is perhaps why he feels a fascination with the ciphers and the way that the killer communicates. The real Graysmith said of Zodiac: ‘The guy made me mad. I didn’t like him pretty much doing the same kind of thing I was doing with symbols and imagery and yet with a lethal nature to it.’[1] So Robert borrows a code breaker book from the library, hangs the cipher up on his corkboard and tries his hand at cracking it.
Robert Downey Jr and Jake Gyllenhaal as Avery and Graysmith
Three days later, Robert hasn’t figured out the cipher - but neither have the FBI or the CIA. History teacher Donald Harden and his wife Bettye solve it over their breakfast table. Decoded, the killer explains that killing people is fun and that he kills people so that they will be his slaves in the afterlife. He doesn’t give his name in the code but he does send another letter to the Chronicle, and calls himself “the Zodiac”.
Zodiac’s third confirmed killing took place a few months later at Lake Berryessa, where he confronted Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard. Dressed all in black with an executioner-style hood covering his face, a handgun and a knife on his belt, he tied them up and stabbed them multiple times in the back. Incredibly, Brian Hartnell survived. Two weeks later, cab driver Paul Stine was shot in the head in his taxi and died instantly.
All of Zodiac’s kills happen within the first thirty minutes of the film - after that, the story becomes about the people who are affected by the case. There is a certain tension to the film that holds the viewer despite the most confronting scenes ending before the 1-hour mark. We’re next introduced to Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo), who first comes on the scene during the investigation of Stine’s death. He takes on the role of Chief Investigator, assisted by his partner Detective Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards). The investigation becomes a whirlwind of scattered case files and loose ends as the detectives put together the pieces left behind at each murder scene. A hotline is started for the public to call in if they think they know who the killer is, and phones ring off the hook with wild goose chases.
Meanwhile Robert is still hooked on the case. He listens in on updates from his fellow staff and keeps up with Paul Avery as he writes his next Zodiac article. Robert looks for a pattern, at first picking up the idea that Zodiac’s kills have something to do with water, at Blue Rock Springs, LakeHerman Road, or the fact that all the kills are young couples … but cab driver Paul Stine doesn’t fit. ‘He’s breaking the pattern,’ Toschi asserts. But was there a pattern to begin with? How did the Zodiac get away cleanly with four murders and then come to the city and leave a partial fingerprint in the taxi cab? Was it really his print? Who is he, what is he doing, and why?
These questions grab hold of Robert and he becomes determined to find answers. He is the relatable character who doesn’t have a place in this world of crime-solving but for some reason feels a drive to go after it anyway. He just wants to help. His fascination gets the better of him and he is unable to let the idea of finding this killer go.
 David Fincher says of the film: ‘This is not a serial killer movie, it’s a newspaper story that gradually becomes a story about justice or the obsession with justice, and what is justice? Where can you feel good, at what point can you let go? What point have you got what you need in order to move on?’[2]This is exactly what affects Robert, and in some ways the other characters are obsessed with this case or with other things in their lives, like Paul Avery and his drug addiction, which eventually triggers his down-spiral during the film. Robert’s second marriage in the later half of the film down-spirals too due to his “Zodiac crap” as his wife (Chloë Sevigny) calls it. Code books, research, newspaper clippings and various ‘clues’ accumulate in Robert’s house, until a later shot in the film shows boxes piled in his kitchen, even stacked on top of the stove.
Mark Ruffalo as Toschi, and in the background Anthony Edwards as Armstrong
A year later the case still continues. Paul Avery receives a tip that a 1966 murder of a college girl in Riverside might be connected to Zodiac. He publishes an article with the headline NEW EVIDENCE IN ZODIAC KILLINGS, swamping Toschi and Armstrong once again with more false confessions and fake tip offs. Finally, though, a real fish bites - but it’s not for another eight months. In July 1971 a man named Don Cheney meets with Armstrong to discuss someone he thinks might be a suspect. The man is Arthur Leigh Allen, and there are some alarming coincidences between him and the Zodiac. According to Cheney he and Allen had a conversation in 1968 wherein Allen was angry about losing his job as a teacher and said that he would shoot out the tires of a school bus and write letters to the police, calling himself Zodiac to mess with them. Toschi and Armstrong then had enough material to question Allen, so they call a meeting with him.
After speaking with Allen they attempt to investigate him further, but by 1972 they’ve still been unable to get a warrant. Instead of glossing over this part of the film and skipping straight to a warrant and property search, Vanderbilt and Fincher wanted to show how much work the police had put into the case, and how much effort it really takes to get a warrant.[3] In Fincher’s mind Zodiac was based upon All The President’s Men more than anything else[4], and these procedures were important. Finally in September Toschi and Armstrong are able to search Allen’s house, but after comparing Allen’s writing to Zodiac’s, it becomes less and less likely that Allen is their guy.
Five years later, Robert, who has still been conducting his own amateur investigation and is now at the point of gathering enough material to write a book, meets Toschi and presents his research. Toschi is impressed and lets slip the information Robert needs to view the case files at the Vallejo Police Department. Robert learns that the Zodiac most likely knew Darlene Ferrin in person, which means that Mike Mageau might have known him as well … but it appears that no one ever showed suspect photos to Mageau. Unfortunately Mageau disappeared after being released from the hospital following his attack and his whereabouts were unknown.
As time passes and the Zodiac disappears, Toschi comes to terms with not being able to solve the case and finds a certain satisfaction with it being ‘over’. But Robert is persistent and continues with his obsession. In Robert’s eyes it is not about obsession, but about the thrill and the hope of solving the case, and the simple fact that he seems to find it fun, but it was fun to the point where it became an addiction. His wife takes their children and leaves him alone with his piles of research.
Robert eventually builds a list of circumstantial evidence and presents this to Toschi, including a timeline of Allen’s whereabouts compared to Zodiac’s timeline of the murders (Allen lived minutes away from Darlene Ferrin) and the letters sent – and it all seems to match. Toschi knows it’s not enough to prove anything, but he encourages Robert to finish writing his book.
Robert completes his book and comes to peace with the case, convinced that he knows who the Zodiac killer is.
The film comes full circle in a closing scene with first surviving victim Mike Mageau (now played by Jimmi Simpson). In 1991, five years afterZodiac is published, the police track down Mageau and present a list of suspect photos to him. From the lineup he picks out the photograph of Arthur Leigh Allen. Hurdy Gurdy Man replays again as text appears on the black screen, explaining that Allen died of a heart attack before the police could discuss charging him with the murders. It has never been proven who the Zodiac killer was.
The haunting tone of the film is an engrossing one. Zodiac captures the vintage 1970s look effectively with its nit-picky detail. The murky colour palette creates a certain inescapability, a sense that the sun will never come up. Even in the daylight scenes there is a gloominess hanging over the characters, brought on by the terror of not knowing what will happen. For almost two hours the film sits in a suspended tension, waiting with bated breath and yearning for another breakthrough in the 1000-piece-puzzle style story.

Further Production
The Cast
‘[Mark Ruffalo] went to visit Inspector Toschi for two or three days in San Francisco – he came back as Inspector Toschi,’ said Robert Graysmith.[1]Both Mark Ruffalo and Jake Gyllenhaal went to great lengths to embody their real-life counterparts. Gyllenhaal went to Graysmith and recorded him on tape to watch back and replicate Graysmith’s mannerisms.[2]
Gyllenhaal was pleased to be working with David Fincher even though he found the workload strenuous at times. He said of Fincher: ‘He’s very clear about what he wants. Sometimes we’d do 10 takes and he would say, “Delete the last 10 takes.” As an actor that’s very hard to hear.’[3] In another interview during the making of the film Gyllenhaal also said, ‘With Fincher you have to stay within the rules, but within those rules are amazing discoveries.’[4]
For Robert Downey Jr, research was more difficult as Paul Avery had passed away before filming took place, so he took liberty and developed his own interpretation of the character with the help of Vanderbilt and costume designer Casey Storm, who gave him photographs of his father, who dressed much like the flamboyant Paul Avery.[5] Downey’s performance was well received by people who had known Avery in real life.[6]

Production Design and Visual Effects
The detailed-oriented Fincher was incorrigible about the production design and overall look of the film. Vanderbilt quoted Fincher describing what it’s like to be a director as: ‘Imagine painting, but you’re 200 yards away from the canvas, and 80 people are holding the brush. And you’re on a walkie-talkie going, “a little blue there. No no, darker blue. No, darker blue!”’[7]
Zodiac is a film that completely immerses the viewer in the time period. The entire floor of a building was turned into the San Francisco Chronicle, down to the brand of typewriters and the stationary tucked away in drawers[8]. Even the newspapers were reprinted with every original article from theChronicle, so that if a character were to pick up a newspaper and turn to page 8 they could read something written in 1969.[9] When Robert Graysmith saw the set it took his breath away and he wondered who would even know if the lighting pattern on the ceiling was the same in the set as in the real building. Brad Fischer looked at him and said, ‘David Fincher would.’[10] Fincher uses colour in the film in a very purposeful way, the key colour being yellow, which appears often at times when the Zodiac case is running hot or themes of suspicion pepper a scene. Later on in the film, after several years have passed and the case has all but died, the large yellow columns inside of the San Francisco Chronicle have been repainted blue.
Lake Berryessa had changed a lot over the years, and the landscape was now bare. Fincher went back over photographs from the time period and had grass replaced and trees choppered in and planted in the original places, replicating Lake Berryessa as it once had been.[11] On the design for Zodiac’s executioner costume, Storm said of Fincher: ‘He wanted to change one line of thread in the size of the hole [of the eye-slit]. That was classic Fincher.’[12]
All the blood in the killing scenes is completely digitalised. Fincher wanted to be able to shoot numerous takes without having to stop every time to clean up and redress the actors and the set.[13] Wide shots of San Francisco were recreated digitally to transport the viewer back to the 1960s and 70s. The street corner where Paul Stine was shot in his cab was almost entirely digital because the filmmakers were unable to shoot at the real location. All the backgrounds of the shots were seamlessly redesigned, including shooting background characters on a separate blue-screen and adding them back into the frame.[14]

Zodiac was shot over a 110 day schedule between September 2005 and March 2006.[15] It was the first feature-length film to be shot and edited with an uncompressed, tapeless HD workflow.[16] Fincher had used this process before when shooting commercials, and was eager to try it for his own movie. It was successful enough for him that he used the process again later for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.[17] The digital workflow allowed him to play back the shots that had just been taken and send the ones he was happy with to the editor straight away.[18] Angus Wall edited the film on Final Cut Pro, because at the time AVID didn’t allow for HD editing.[19]
The film was shot on a Thomson Viper Filmstream Camera except for the slow-motion kills, which were filmed with 35mm.[20] DOP Harris Savides was given the camera for three or four days to do a practice shoot and see how much the camera was capable of. Fincher was obviously pleased with what it could do: they shot so much footage during the production period that there were moments when they almost ran out of hard disk space. A multi-camera setup was often in place so that Fincher could make sure he got the coverage he wanted, but this creating lighting difficulties. To avoid getting light in the lenses of the cameras, Savides would bounce outdoor light in through windows, and also set up large overhead lights inside.[21]

Release, Reception and Place in Screen History
Phoenix Pictures released the film through Paramount Pictures for the USA and Warner Bros. for overseas distribution.[22] To promote Zodiac, Paramount put up WANTED posters on telephones poles with the police sketch of Zodiac accompanied by the words “In Theatres March 2nd.”[23] The film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007,[24] but lost out in the Palme d’Or to 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days by Cristian Mungiu.[25]
movie poster for ZODIAC
The estimated budget for the film was around $65 million but in the US box office it made only $33 million. The film did better when released overseas at $85 million.[26] Whilst receiving good reviews from those who did see it, it seems the downfall of Zodiac’s marketing plan was that it was misinterpreted by general audiences as a thriller or even a horror film, when really it was a procedural crime drama. The long running time of 158 minutes may have bored audiences members not interested in Fincher’s fine details.[27]Missing the Oscar season was also a disadvantage for Zodiac, and by the time the next Academy Awards came around it was overlooked.
Today, Zodiac is probably more successful than it was at its original release, but still attracts a very particular audience. Vanderbilt said that the subject matter attracts those of an obsessive nature,[28] and that is true for both the case and the film. It is perhaps most appreciated by those who will watch it many times and take in Fincher’s own obsession over the tiny details.
Coincidentally the Zodiac killer case, deemed ‘inactive’ by the San Francisco Police Department in 2004, [29]was reopened in 2007, about the same time that Zodiac was released - likely because the SFPD expected backlash from inspired audience members who saw the movie.[30] During the filmmaking the crew caught Fincher and Vanderbilt’s investigative bug and often spoke about the suspects and the murder case during production meetings. There was even a thought among them that the case might be solved during the making of the movie[31], but unfortunately this was not what happened. In reality Zodiac is still a fictional work of creative license, the filmmakers’ interpretation of the real events.Zodiac might inspire more amateur investigators like Robert Graysmith, and provide a tribute to those who sacrificed their time and efforts towards the original case, but solve the case it will not. However it is, and will remain, a beautiful piece of cinema, one of Fincher’s best works to date.

Development & Pre-Production
[1] “This is the Zodiac Speaking” Zodiac: Director’s Cut Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Paramount Pictures (Phoenix Pictures Production) 2007. [Blu-Ray]
[2] Petrikin, Chris. “Salerno Signs ‘Zodiac’ Deal” Variety, 3rd August 1997.
[3] “Zodiac Deciphered” Zodiac: Director’s Cut Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Paramount Pictures (Phoenix Pictures Production) 2007. [Blu-Ray]
[4] Smith, Jeremy. “Zodiac” Creative Screenwriting Magazine, March/April 2007 (pg. 36-37)
[5] “Zodiac Deciphered” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]
[6] Smith, Jeremy. “Zodiac” Creative Screenwriting Magazine, March/April 2007 (p. 36)
[7] Ibid
[8] Abramowitz, Rachel. “The humble beginnings of ‘Shutter Island’” Los Angeles Times, 18th February 2010.
[9] Smith, Jeremy. “Zodiac” Creative Screenwriting Magazine, March/April 2007
[10] “Zodiac Deciphered” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]
[11] “Zodiac Deciphered” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]
[12]  Ibid
[13] Ibid

Scene Breakdown: Blue Rock Springs
 “Commentary by David Fincher” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]
[2] “Zodiac Deciphered” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]
[3] Ibid
[4] “Zodiac Deciphered” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]
[5] Ibid
[6] “Commentary by David Fincher” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]

The Film
 “Zodiac Deciphered” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]
[2] “Commentary by David Fincher” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]
[3] “Zodiac Deciphered” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]
[4] Fuller, Graham. “Zodiac” Sight & Sound Magazine, June 2007 (p. 81)

 Further Production | Release, Reception and Place in Screen History
[1] “This is Zodiac” Zodiac Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Paramount Pictures (Phoenix Pictures Production) 2007. Dir. David Fincher. [DVD]
[2] “Zodiac Deciphered” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]
[3] Goodsell, Luke. “Zodiac” Empire Magazine, June 2007 (p. 28)
[4] “This is Zodiac” Zodiac [DVD]
[5] “Zodiac Deciphered” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]
[6] Ibid
[7] Ibid
[8] Ibid
[9] Ibid
[10] Hartman, Forrest. “From cartoonist to ‘Zodiac’, Robert Graysmith has prominent role in film” Army Times, 2nd March 2007
[11] “Zodiac Deciphered” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]
[12] Ibid
[13] “The Visual Effects of Zodiac” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]
[14] Ibid
[15] Hurwitz, Matt. “Crime Scenes and Compression Schemes” Videography Magazine, March 2007 (p. 25)
[16] Ibid (p. 19)
[17] Ibid
[18] Ibid
[19] Ibid
[20] “The Visual Effects of Zodiac” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]
[21] Hurwitz, Matt. “Crime Scenes and Compression Schemes” Videography Magazine, March 2007 (p. 25)
[22] “Zodiac (2007)” IMDB
[23] Sciretta, Peter. “Zodiac Killer On the Loose” Slash Film, 16th February 2007.
[24] Pulver, Andrew. “Life With A Serial Killer” The Guardian, 18th May 2007.
[25] “Official Selection 2007” Festival De Cannes, 2007.
[26] “Zodiac” Box Office Mojo [ affiliate]
[27] Gores, Jared. “Investigating the Curious Case of ‘Zodiac’” Reel Fanatics, 1st March 2010.
[28] “Zodiac Deciphered” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]
[29] Goodyear, Charlie. “Files shut on Zodiac’s deadly trail” SF Gate, 7th April 2007.
[30] Russo, Charles. “Zodiac: The Killings That Never Die” Charles Russo, 2007.
[31] “Zodiac Deciphered” Zodiac: Director’s Cut [Blu-Ray]