The death of life ("Zoe" is the Latin
(actually Greek) word meaning "life."
Zed: I can't pee on you?
A 1994 crime/heist/drug/postmodern
film, written and directed by Roger Avary
(best known for co-writing Pulp Fiction
). Stars Eric Stoltz as Zed, Julie Delpy as the titular Zoe, and Jean-Hugues Anglade as Eric, the mastermind behind the heist. Roger Ebert
called it "Generation X's first bank caper movie."
Eric Stoltz plays Zed, an American safe-cracker in Paris to see his childhood friend Eric. After an interesting afternoon with Zoe, a call-girl (certainly not a prostitute), Eric shows up and takes Zed out to "live life." This is done by shooting up with Zed, and then telling him that he (Eric) is HIV positive. The following day is Bastille Day, and every bank except one is closed. Guess what happens. They rob the place, Eric goes crazy (well, crazier), the call-girl works there, and every piece of shit manages to hit the fan.
It's gone down in history as a lesser Quentin Tarantino
film, but his only involvement was as executive producer. Similarities between Killing Zoe
and other Tarantino films do exist, but that is because Roger Avary had a hand in writing those scripts. Some called Tarantino out on reusing a call-girl character, as he had already done True Romance
, but the first draft of True Romance
was written by Roger Avary. The true difference between Killing Zoe
and the Tarantino's films is the nihilism. Avary writes villains who are selfish monsters and heroes that are nothing but apathetic. Does it come as a shock to anyone that the man's next film would be an adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis book
This film provides examples of:
- Anti-Hero: Zed is a career criminal who isn't exactly a nice guy.
- Auteur License: Roger Avary backed out of a deal with a Canadian production company because they wouldn't let him use his.
- Author Avatar: Zed, for writer/director Roger Avary.
- Ax-Crazy: Eric, after he's done being Affably Evil.
- Black and Gray Morality: When the hero is a heroin-using safe cracker and his old lady is a call girl, you know you're not in a very nice place. Predictably, the villain is a manic, remorseless psychopath who becomes a terrorist and machine guns people to death entirely for fun.
- Blatant Lies: "I am not a prostitute!"
- Breast Attack: A gender reversed version. Zoe does it to Zed when he calls her a prostitute.
- California Doubling: Despite taking place entirely in Paris, the whole production was shot in L.A. (with the exception of the opening and closing credits). Because 99% of the movie takes place indoors and almost the entire cast is French, it's not noticeable at all.
- The Cameo: The first security guard to die, shot-gunned to the chest, is Ron Jeremy, world's most famous porn star. In his autobiography, Jeremy put his appearance at number 1 on his list of greatest movie deaths.
- The Caper: Probably would have gone better had they spent more than five minutes planning. And didn't do heroin the night before. And weren't lead by a psycho... it wasn't the smartest Caper.
- Cult Soundtrack: Killing Zoe's electronic score by musical duo tomandandy [sic] became an underground club hit in Europe, and also helped to set Roger Avary apart from former collaborator Quentin Tarantino. It's worth noting that the actual soundtrack album features the score in a drastically different form than was featured in the film. Avary explains:
"Tomandandy completely remixed their movie music for the album, tuning it to their specific level of sonic perfection. Releasing the tracks different from the film may seem odd at first, but in those days the optical track on the film was lo-fi by tomandandy standards, and had to compete with so many tracks, backgrounds, and audio elements of the movie, that the music needed to be composed 'less deep' to be able to exist within the available bandwidth. Also, I would edit their music myself during editorial. Some beds of audio were originally composed separate from image, and we would make them fit contextually with the image. Keep in mind, this is with a flatbed Kem and dirty dupes of 35mm film, an entirely different experience that is possible in todays mashup culture. Also consider that philosophically we wanted to create a separate experience, one that existed specifically for the CD. I think this is most strongly felt on Canaan, the end song, which was sung two ways, once by Andy Milburn, and once by Robin O'Brien, because I wanted feminine phonemes in the end."
- Eiffel Tower Effect: Averted. Roger Avary specifically wanted to avoid this and make a movie about the real Paris, not the one featured in every Hollywood movie.
- Everyone Looks Sexier If French: When played by Julie Delpy, you're damn right.
- Everything Sounds Sexier in French: Obviously any french spoken by Julie Delpy's Zoe, and strangely, many lines from Eric sounds incredibly hot when you get past the whole "murder" thing.
- Faux Affably Evil: Eric, who begins the film as Zed's old childhood friend. He always has a smile on, and says that the rest of the gang has already agreed to give Zed a big cut of the take. Later on, he's still smiling, while covered in blood, leaving his gang to die, and decaring that he doesn't give a shit about Zed. "We haven't seen each other in years!"
- Faux Symbolism: As one character is dying, he rambles the non-sequitur, "Ox, where is thy yoke?" The director has gone one record saying he wanted a Shakespeare quote but was too lazy to look one up.
- Gay Paree: Totally averted, since all but the opening and closing shots were filmed in Los Angeles. Avary actually tried to film a French McDonald's, but couldn't get permission.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Zoe falls for Zed because he makes her orgasm (by her own logic, only a client who's a good person could make her come).
- Insistent Terminology: Zoe is a "call girl," not a "prostitute" (her reaction is almost identical to Alabama's in True Romance, an earlier Avary story).
- Journey to the Center of the Mind: Symbolically, as the Word of God says the bank represents Zed's mind. Watch the movie again with an eye towards that.
- Karmic Death: Eric gets machine gunned to death by a least a half dozen cops. He spends almost 30 seconds having bullets rip through him.
- Life Embellished: Believe it or not. Roger Avary based the script on his state of mind during a European trip he once took. Many quoteable lines were actually said to him by his Parisian junkie friends. When Quentin Tarantino first read the script, he said the only appropriate title was "Roger Takes A Trip."
- Malevolent Architecture and/or Alien Geometries and/or Eldritch Location: Word of God has it that the bank is meant to represent Zed's mind/brain. The farther into it they go, the deeper the red gets. The vault is his moral center, where he's forced to Mercy Kill the disfigured guard, thus changing his overall attitude (when Zoe was in trouble before, Zed didn't lift a finger; after the vault scene, he immediately risks his life to save her). Both the director and the production designer have gone on record saying the bank is highly unrealistic and was modeled on The Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining; French banks don't have giant French flags hanging from the ceiling or bizarre Roman paintings hanging on blood-red walls. For some audience members, this may break the Suspension of Disbelief, for others it's the best aspect of the film.
- Malevolent Masked Men: All the bank robbers where Venetian-style masks that reflect their personalities. For example, Zed's mask is a wolf (though it's often mistaken for a pig). The actors all designed their character's masks personally.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: With a gun! Unlike most MPDG's in fiction, Zoe doesn't inspire a whole lot of change in Zed. He doesn't lift an eyebrow when Eric locks her out of the hotel room without any clothes on. He does, however, risk his life to save her.
- Meaningful Echo: "I'll show you the real Paris."
- The Public Domain Channel: Silent classic Nosferatu plays on TV while Zed and Zoe have sex.
- Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Of a sort. The writer/director likened the characters to vikings, and gave them all copies of Beowulf to get them into character. Also alluded to with Oliver's strange rant about loving viking films. Over the course of the film, the gang pillages, grotesquely burns a guard, and though they don't rape, it is threatened. Eric can also be seen having anal sex with Francois after admitting to Zed that he (Eric) has AIDS.
- Rule of Symbolism: The French flag, like the American, is composed of the colors red, white, and blue. So Killing Zoe is similarly divided: the color palette is white from the start to Eric's introduction, blue during the gang's night out, and red during the robbery. Subtle bits, like lighting, change accordingly; Zed's plaid shirt is blue during the night and changes to red when he wakes up for the robbery.
- The director has also said that HIV-positive, caucasian, French Eric having anal sex with Vietnamese Francois was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek comment on the French occupation of Vietnam. Since you only see them from behind, many viewers had trouble figuring out just who Eric was doing.
- Sanity Slippage: Eric (noticing a pattern?)
- Sex Equals Love: Zoe, who works part-time as a prostitute, falls in love with her client Zed because he makes her climax, which she believes only someone who's a good person could do. Later circumstances make this attraction more believable when Zed saves Zoe's life from his homicidal friend.
- Shout-Out: Oliver spends some time talking about his favorite episodes of The Prisoner.
- Tattooed Crook: Zed has the Black Flag logo tattooed on his left bicep; Eric has a stylized bee on his arm, with the stinger ending in his (infected?) track mark.
- Verbing Nouny: The film's title.