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Zodiac Movie: Crime, Media Reporting and Ethics Research Paper


There are several reasons why Zodiac has to be watched. In addition to the fact that it is based on real events, it touches upon human deaths which have not been solved yet, failed attempts to discover the killer’s personality and the role of media in crimes. Zodiac tells the story of several murders that happened in the United States between the 1960s and the 1970s. Besides, Zodiac is called one of the best movies at the beginning of the 21st century starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey, Jr. Finally, this movie is an effective learning tool that helps to disclose the essence of media literacy and possible media impact on people.

Today, the media makes people free and able to investigate human behavior, social norms, and relations that can be developed by separate people and whole nations. Still, it is not enough to identify the advantages of media but try to understand what the media are, and what messages can be delivered. In this paper, the movie Zodiac will be analyzed in terms of three media theories, liberalism, social responsibility, and uses and gratifications, to explain the peculiar features of crime coverage, the appropriateness of investigative reporting, and the development of ethical considerations in crime reports and examine its cultural impact on society.

Concepts and Theories

The role of media in the movie Zodiac cannot be neglected. The development of the events and the rise of the killer’s popularity began as soon as the reporters of the San Francisco Chronicle received and discovered the letter with threats to American society. This movie teaches how crucial the role and impact of media can be. A person wants to be recognized and addresses the press for help. Instead of protecting society, press representatives decide to make the audience direct participants of crime investigation and active receivers of information.

These are the main signs of the uses and gratification theory of the press (Hanson, 2016). At the same time, the movie shows that the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s was the period when the press wanted to stay as liberal as possible and able to provide people with a chance to receive facts and depict truth from falsehood. It is an example of the libertarian theory (Hanson, 2016).

However, Zodiac is not a simple story of one or two crimes that were solved. It is the story with no end. It is a series of crimes that could not be solved by the government and the best representatives of American police. Therefore, the chosen movie also relates to the theory known as social responsibility when the press tries to meet corporate interests and perform several social functions, including entertainment, self-governance, and pressure avoidance.

Still, self-awareness may have a destructive power (Casey, 2015). Characters in the movie are so involved in searching for the truth that they neglect simple things like their possible impact on other people around and the outcomes of their words or their behaviors. “I need to know who he is. I… I need to stand there, I need to look him in the eye and I need to know that it’s him” (Fincher, 2007). Graysmith’s passion for discovering Zodiac seems to have no boundaries. Zodiac shows how confidence in crime coverage and the intentions to succeed in investigative reporting destroys any ethical issues and considerations.

Controversial Issues

The story of Zodiac was one of the most publicized criminal cases in the history of the United States. Instead of not publishing the letters of the killer, who demanded publicity and recognition, the press used all its powers to make people informed believing that truth had to be revealed by any means. There are two main sides, two ethical dilemmas raised in the movie. On the one hand, there was a possibility not to pay attention to the killer’s letters and not to make all information about murders public. On the other hand, the press was involved in all crime investigations by Zodiac and invite innocent people to participate in crime coverage without even thinking about the impact of such involvement.

These two controversial issues of public interests and the impossibility to make a choice are not discussed in the movie. Still, they make the audience recognize these threats and realize that aggressive behavior discussed in press, violence, and cruelty that occurs around, and a lack of control may change human lives (Helfgott, 2015). Reporters and media promote the spread of violence in fear in American society (Follman, 2015), and people have two possible ways out of such situation: the one is chosen by Paul Avery, who decided to leave everything and deprive himself of any kind of responsibility for unclear and poorly proved investigative reports, and another is chosen by Robert Graysmith, who wanted to discover the truth even without knowing how it should look like. “Just because you can’t prove it doesn’t mean it isn’t true” (Fincher, 2007).

Cultural Impact

The presence of several theories in one media-related movie proves how diverse and unpredictable the role of the press or other media sources can be. Though people underline their power and abilities to gain control over every situation, they cannot even understand how weak and helpless they become in front of the media. People read what is given in the press and believe that they are free to choose what information can be used and what facts can be avoided. Still, information is a powerful weapon, and even if people are the main creators of information, they cannot control the impact it may have on others.

The cultural impact of the movie is impressive indeed because it shows that not all problems can be solved, and not all questions can be answered. Zodiac raised people’s awareness about the shortages of crime coverage and the inability to stay ethically correct all the time. Sometimes, there are no right or wrong sides. Sometimes, there is a whole that consumes people’s emotions and abilities. For American society, this movie has a serious impact in comparison to the audience of other countries because it depicts a true story with true murders or injuries of real American people. Though Zodiac is the movie that does not change the movie industry, it may change people’s attitudes to media and its role in their lives.


An understanding of media and its impact may undergo considerable changes after people watch Zodiac, the movie about how the press turned an ordinary sick person, who killed several people, into a legend whose personality is not revealed today. It could happen that the killer stopped his activities as soon as he discovered that his actions were not interesting to people. However, media and reporters did not make this happen. There is only one question left: “Could several human lives be saved if reporters ignored the first letter of Zodiac?”.


Casey, J. (2015). Queer cannibals and deviant detectives: Subversion and homosocial desire in NBC’s Hannibal. Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 32(6), 550-567.

Fincher, D. (2007). Zodiac [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures.

Follman, M. (2015, October 9). . The New York Times.

Hanson, R. E. (2016). Mass communication: Living in a media world. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Helfgott, J.B. (2015). Criminal behavior and the copycat effect: Literature review and theoretical framework for empirical investigation. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 22, 46-64.

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"Zodiac Movie: Crime, Media Reporting and Ethics." IvyPanda, 6 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/zodiac-movie-crime-media-reporting-and-ethics/.

1. IvyPanda. "Zodiac Movie: Crime, Media Reporting and Ethics." September 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/zodiac-movie-crime-media-reporting-and-ethics/.


IvyPanda. "Zodiac Movie: Crime, Media Reporting and Ethics." September 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/zodiac-movie-crime-media-reporting-and-ethics/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Zodiac Movie: Crime, Media Reporting and Ethics." September 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/zodiac-movie-crime-media-reporting-and-ethics/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Zodiac Movie: Crime, Media Reporting and Ethics'. 6 September.

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