James Vanderbilt, Robert Graysmith, and David Fincher, 2007

In the late 1960s, someone killed at least five people in the Bay Area and then wrote taunting letters to various local newspapers along with "ciphers," full of misspellings and miscodings, like a less intelligent Riddler. As years went by and the case remained unsolved, a cartoonist who had been employed by the San Francisco Chronicle at the time became increasingly obsessed with figuring out the killer's identity.

This one's pretty interesting, for at least three reasons: (1) as a piece of history, (2) as a narrative that takes a gradual left turn — it starts off like a true crime genre movie, but turns into a character piece about the cartoonist — and (3) as a meditation on order and chaos.

In The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell sneers at socialists who are not motivated, as he is, by a desire to "shed his bourgeois status and fight on the side of the proletariat." If they don't love the working class, he asks, why are they socialists? "The underlying motive of many Socialists, I believe, is simply a hypertrophied sense of order. The present state of affairs offends them not because it causes misery, still less because it makes freedom impossible, but because it is untidy; what they desire, basically, is to reduce the world to something resembling a chessboard."

That pretty much sums up the cartoonist in this movie. His life falls apart and he loses his family over his obsessive pursuit of the Zodiac Killer. Was he a relative of one of the victims? A policeman assigned to the case? Nah — he just happened to work at the paper when the letters arrived. But even this incidental brush with chaos is too much for him to take: he can't bear to live in a universe where the clues don't all neatly line up. And that existential crisis actually makes for a more interesting story than the crimes themselves do.

It's also one I can relate to a little too well. But better a hypertrophied sense of order than a hypertrophied sense of embarrassment at being named Eric.

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