|JoBlo via MovieWeb|
There's many fantastic scenes in this movie, but for me there's one that's the most memorable, and it's not even that imperative to the main story line. It underlines Graysmith's state of mind but it's ultimately a red herring. One of Graysmith's leads points him in the direction of movie posters which contain hand-writing that matches closely to the Zodiac killer's. He goes to see the theater owner, Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer), in order to get information on this poster creator - only to find out that it was actually Vaughn's handwriting. At this point Graysmith is already in this man's house and if Vaughn is the killer he knows that someone is on to him. Even if he's not, it's immediately clear how suspicious and on edge Graysmith is at this reveal.
Instead of just leaving out of fear, Graysmith instead accepts Vaughn's offer to go down to his damn dusty and dark basement to check out some more of his work! This is insanity! That's the point though - Graysmith is so desperate to know the truth that he's willingly putting himself in potential harm's way. It also reminds me of a line from another David Fincher movie though. The killer in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo discusses how easy it is to lure victims and says, "It's hard to believe that the fear of offending can be stronger than the fear of pain, but you know what? It is." I'm not sure this is exactly what Graysmith is doing - trying to not offend Vaughn - but there is a sense that he feels like he must accept the offer to go down to the basement. It just seems like the standard response, even when you know that something doesn't feel right.
I find everything that goes into Graysmith's thought process to be interesting here, but the way Fincher has crafted the scene is filled with tension and it's paralyzing to the viewer even though nothing actually serious goes down. Graysmith's descent into the basement is filled with complete dread. He's so nervous that it makes you nervous. As Vaughn casually discusses movies and if the Zodiac killer may have been inspired by them, you're not sure if he's making his pre-murder soliloquy or just chatting. Graysmith hears what sounds like foot steps overhead and is terrified, asking Vaughn if someone else is there. Vaughn moves in and out of the shadows during the scene and close ups on Graysmith's alarmed face up the tension. Graysmith leaves in a desperate rush as panic takes over. This movie is a true crime drama but it's also a thriller and in moments like this, a horror movie.
Ultimately, Vaughn is never seriously considered a suspect and Graysmith settles onto another candidate, but this scene doesn't feel random or unnecessary. It's an encapsulation of not only Graysmith and the other investigator's obsession, but the fear every person feels when there's an unexplained malevolent force at hand. It may not be the theater owner, but that doesn't mean you're not scared to death of the possibility.
What's your favorite scene from Zodiac?
Would you have gone down into that basement?