usa special
hyd scene

Some Ramblings - Zodiac
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla

22nd November 1963 - A sitting President of the Unites States (JFK) visiting the state of Texas, then still rooted in the segregationist culture of the south, for the first time in his tenure. The President hadn't been quite popular in the region, in the weeks running up to the day. On the domestic front, his policies of appealing to the common populace of embracing the civil rights ideology spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jr, hadn't completely sat well with the public, particularly in the deep interiors. Internationally, he traded on evil for another, when he made a secret deal with Nikita Kruschev, the premier of the erstwhile USSR, to not invade Communist Cuba, in return for dismantling of the arsenal build up by the USSR in that region, a little too close to comfort for USA. As a part of the deal, he withdrew tactical support to the Cuban exiles, trained, armed and supported by the CIA, planning to overthrow the Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, in what came to known as the (in)famous 'Bay of Pigs' invasion. On the home front, things weren't too rosy, with his brother, Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General, stirring up the hornet's nests of powerful mob bosses, who, ironically, were in bed with JFK, getting him elected to the highest office, and feeding his insatiable appetite for Hollywood starlets.

So, in all, at the point of time, there were 5 groups gunning for his head - Rednecks of the south antagonized by his minority-appeasement policies, the Cuban exile community braying for his blood for leaving them stranded and mercilessly slaughtered by the Cuban military, the mob, for deserting them in their time of need, needled by the very same guys they helped getting elected, the military-CIA nexus vexed with his pacifist (and pro-communist) policies, and Fidel Castro himself, trying to exact revenge for the number of times attempts had been made on his life by the American administration.

So when shots were fired from the book depository on 22nd November on the President's motorcade and a couple of bullets hit the right target ending the President's life, all fingers pointed at first to the lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald an ex-marine and a self-professed communist. However in the years following the assassination, several theories started to surface, thanks in large parts to the Zapruder film that remains as the lone video evidence that captured the final moments of the President, that supported the theory of more than one gunman acting during that time, which then mushroomed into a conspiracy theory in itself. Jim Garrisson, the then Attorney General of the state of Louisiana, couldn't quite contend himself with the findings of the Warren commission, established to investigate into the assassination, which subscribed that a single gunman firing from a top angle, through thick foliage straight into the President's head with just 3 bullets. He dug deeper into the case, and poked at it in angles that sometimes felt overboard and over-reaching by the media and everyone around him, and when he made the case (the only one that was ever brought to trial on the assassination of the President) to implicate a Dallas business owner, Clay Shaw, his very credibility (and even his sanity) was called into question. How could a small-time businessman with limited means, collude with the different wings raring to take a shot at the President, coordinate the attack and carry it out successfully, pulling a wool rug over the many mighty organizations - the Dallas POlice Department, the Secret Service, the FIB and the CIA, leaving only circumstantial and speculative evidence behind.

The case drove Jim Garrisson virtually mad, frustrated with himself unable to convince the world that the picture he arrived at by connecting all the different dots, was not what the people saw as logical, plausible and sometimes even ethical, by legal standards. It, however, didn't stop him from making claims that sometimes hit the target right on (like there was indeed one man acting to kill the President that day, which was finally agreed to by the Judiciary Committee, (established more than a decade after the event to probe into that fateful day), to formally consitute a conspiracy), and some that appeared like he was shooting in the dark hoping to connect (like how behind everything, the highest offices of the Administration, including the then Vice President Lyndon Johnson, was culpable in the crime). At the heart of Garrisson's case stood frustration and anger and deep within his frustrations remained his obsession.

Zodiac - the facts first - Zodiac killer was never caught. His identity remains a mystery even to this day. The murders that were committed in the late 60s in the San Fransisco area, that were linked to the self-titled Zodiac killer, in all earnestness, didn't totally implicate him for the lack of evidence. In all the 65 or more murders attributed to him, only 5 had strong proof and the rest remains sketchy, at best. And the movie is about obsession - obsession of the killer to delude himself of grandeur that he was the ultimate decider of who gets to live and who gets to die, obsession of the police detectives who constantly remain 2 steps behind the killer unable to completely piece the puzzle together even after all the years, obsession of the local media whipped into a frenzy with letters of confession mailed to their offices directly the killer, and finally the obsession of a cartoonist of a local newspaper, Robert Graysmith, on whose book the novel is based, who couldn't just let go of the case, even after 25 years, desparate to crack the case - even if it is for his personal satisfaction.

Unsolved murder mysteries have a very unpleasant nagging quality about them. Take an unsolved case and try to examine the evidence from different angles, more times than not, the scent is thrown off right at the time the identity of the killer becomes as apparent and as clear the daylight, causing one to completely abandon that path, and set forth on another, in the hope of seeing the road to its logical end. The mirage of victory constantly moves away, but only just enough, to tantalize the subject to set on foot again to reach the unreachable. The idea of obsession is what that drives hundreds of people to meet every year at conventions, like JFK conspiracy clubs, to pour over the evidence, reexamine it in ways that they have missed before, compare and exchange notes, draw their conclusions, get dissatisfied with them, come back all over again next again, with fresh minds and clean slates. The worm that keeps turning over and over in their minds makes them to not rest, to not let go, to not make peace with the fact that something just cannot be solved and that they remain a mystery forever, irrespective of the efforts that went into the trying.

David Fincher's (the director) other movie, Seven, also about a serial killer also bases its premise on this idea of obsession, but this time, this is a story about real events and real people. Fittingly, the technique he adopts to narrate the story also becomes realistic, with no glamor attached to the grisly sequences and no highlighting of the gore, that he used to a fantastic effect in Seven. The shock value that results from such a realism is many times more effective than an instant visceral reaction that one feels watching something horrific like dismemberment of a disemboweling. Since the story is set in the late 60s and early 70s, advance techniques like DNA evidence or other forensic pieces, that nowadays can tie a tiny hair follicle to the perpetration almost instantly, are done away with, and the story falls on to the good old sleuthing, that consists in laying down all the evidence on the table, and looking at it for eternity, hoping to catch a brainwave, that would open a window into the mystery. This makes the process even more interesting as the conflict becomes a battle of wits, intelligence and composure than gun battles, car chases and exhilarating laboratory discoveries. The movie takes its time to unfold, laying the necessary groundwork of the Zodiac killer only to the extent of what was discovered at the scene of the crime after the fact (instead of presuming his modus-operandi), the events that surrounded the killings - the media, the law enforcement and the cartoonist, to then delve into the obsessive aspects of these men driving themselves and every around them mad, hanging on to their sanity by the thin strands of hope, while piecing their lives in the shattered shards of evidence.

A year ago, there was another movie, based on a book by James Ellroy, the famous author specializing in unsolved crimes, "The Black Dahlia", which was about a grisly murder of a young Hollywood starlet during the 1940s, that dealt with the similar theme of obsession. As things stand, these mysterious killers didn't just leave dismembered bodies in their wake, they left behind only enough clues that generation after generation can't seem to get enough of, refusing to let the aura of the mystery and the identity of the killer to die its natural death - which is exactly what the killers wanted in the first place - and remains their obsession.

More Ramblings on films
Casino Royale
The Departed
Lage Raho Munnabhai
Superman Returns
The Da Vinci Code
Sri Ramadasu
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Jai Chiranjeeva!
Munich (English)
Sarkar (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

Tell Srinivas Kanchibhotla how you liked the article


This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
emailabout usprivacy policycopy rightsidle stuff