Zodiac ★★★★★

The way "Zodiac" closes with Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" is etched in my memory forever. What I had forgotten was that the song also opens the film, accompanying that first horrific murder, the one to which Mike Mageau mentally returns in the final scene. This device brings the film full circle, but offers little satisfaction, as the closing title cards plant another seed of doubt. The circle is a symbol of wholeness, but there's something missing here, and there always will be.

What an incredibly, perfectly agonizing film. "Zodiac," mercifully, keeps the actions of its titular killer offscreen for the vast majority of its runtime. What we do see, though, is perfectly calibrated to evoke the same kind of queasy fascination that must drive Graysmith; they're unflinchingly brutal, elliptically presented, darkly aestheticized. We're repulsed by them, but we're also drawn to them, and we need to know why, and we need to find some peace at the end of it all.

Graysmith's obsession seems to bleed into Fincher's filmmaking, and then to seep out of the screen and into the viewer. The final hour of "Zodiac" is animated by a kind of breathless desperation, racing through overwhelming amounts of information searching for an elusive clarity. But there is none. In the end, there is a likely story, and maybe that's enough, but maybe it's not. Maybe we'll continue to keep asking questions, having doubts, chasing after certainty we'll never be able to grasp, at least not in this life.

My mother asked me what's so great about David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia," and I couldn't think how to put it into words. My first thought was, "It's like the 'Moby-Dick' of the desert." Well, David Fincher's "Zodiac" is like the "Moby-Dick" of police work, driven by the same obsessive, unfulfilled passion to make sense of this world we live in, haunted by the inadequacy of all the ways we try to gather information and construct meaning. I hadn't seen it in nearly three years, and I had forgotten just how gripping it is, how thoroughly it rattles you. I won't forget again.

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