Follow TV Tropes


Film / Killing Zoe

Go To
The death of life ("Zoe" is the Latin (actually Greek) word meaning "life."

Zed: I can't pee on you?
Zoe: No!

Killing Zoe is 1994 crime/heist/drug/postmodern film, written and directed by Roger Avary (best known for co-writing Pulp Fiction). It 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's The Rulesof Attraction?

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. The fact that he abuses heroin during the heist doesn't help any, nor does the fact he may or may not be completely batshit insane.
  • Bank Robbery: Eric, his American friend Zed, and Eric's gang carry out an extremely ill-conceived bank heist in Paris by cutting short on the planning stage and getting baked on heroin beforehand. It becomes a protracted hostage situation almost immediately.
  • 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. That said Zoe is also a A Lighter Shade of Grey, being more good than morally ambiguous.
  • Blatant Lies: "I am not a prostitute!" Though here it's just that she calls herself a call girl instead.
  • Breast Attack: A gender reversed version. Zoe does it to Zed when he calls her a prostitute.
  • BFG: Eric uses an MP-5 with three magazines 'jungle-taped' together, giving it a massive and intimidating appearance.
  • 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: The 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."
  • Didn't Think This Through: Zed and co. do virtually no planning at all for the heist, are being lead by a delusional junkie/cold blooded psychopath, barely prepare for the caper at all (including visiting the bank they are supposed to hit) and instead get hopelessly drunk and high the night before, continue to take drugs whilst in the middle of robbery, talk and joke freely whilst ignoring the hostages, don't do their jobs correctly, murder several people unnecessarily, discard their masks completely maybe ten minutes in, alert the police with their gunfire (and maybe the silent alarm they didn't properly take care of) don't take a negotiating stance with the police so much as just brutally and pointlessly kill off hostages until the police are practically forced to storm the place, and then immediately go every man for himself when that happens. Now, who can tell me why the heist didn't succeed?
  • 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.
  • Everybody Has Standards: Zed may be a thief who likes to do drugs and fuck prostitutes from time to time, but that doesn't make him a murderer.
  • 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 declaring that he doesn't give a shit about Zed. "We haven't seen each other in years!"
  • French Jerk: Eric was obnoxious and unpleasant even before he turned monstrously psychopathic.
  • 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). Also, she's the least morally ambiguous character in the film by far.
  • 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 at 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 quotable 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."
  • Morality Pet: Zoe becomes this to Zed.
  • Only Sane Man: Zed isn't quick on the uptake that he is this. By the time he realizes, everything's already fucked.
  • 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 it with.
  • 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 (1967).
  • 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.
  • Too Dumb to Live: You really would think that after Eric firmly establishes himself as a ruthless, utterly unstable maniac with an itchy trigger finger who tells everyone he will immediately kill anyone at all who mouths off to him that the hostages would really quit mouthing off to him. But you'd be wrong.
  • Verbing Nouny: The film's title.