Zodiac is superbly made,” writes New Yorker critic David Denby, “but it’s also a strange piece of work. As [it] goes on and on, and it becomes clear that no denouement is possible (the crime was never solved), we have to ask what the reason for all this cinematic blind-alleying might be. Any honest neurotic could probably tell you: the emotional payoff of an obsession is not attaining some longed-for goal — it’s the obsession itself, which fulfills certain needs. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be an obsession.

Jake Gyllenhaal‘s Robert Graysmith, whom no one takes seriously at first, wants to prove himself as a sleuth, perhaps, but his real need is to be absorbed in the search. For Fincher, I would guess, the identity of the killer is less important than the vast effort of almost (but not quite) finding him. He teaches us — and we absorb the lesson uneasily — that truth, like some vision that recedes as we draw near it, will never quite yield to our most ardent pursuit.

“The great film critic Manny Farber once praised what he called ‘termite art,’ by which he meant the kind of small, stubborn movie that chews its way through a narrow piece of turf. David Fincher’s Zodiac is mollusk art: the movie keeps elaborating itself out of its own discharge, hardening its emotions, anxieties, and energies into a shell of obsession.”