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Interesting studies in deviations 

Monster or human? The Mindhunter series digs deep into uncomfortable material to find out the real killer of the serial killer. 


What causes a person to kill, over and over again? Must one be a monster to do monstrous acts? Criminologists, sociologists and philosophers have been pondering this at all times. The answers often end up with typologies: categories of people, actions and criminal traits. The problem with the typical is – as one might imagine – that they are, yes, for the general public. We may be able to sort out, and locate (or even anticipate) what a person is doing or coming to do in the future by organizing the world in this way – but have we really understood those who are responsible for the deeds or why they committed them?

David Fincher's stylish and comfortable slow Netflix series Mindhunter revolves around these issues.

Murderers are people too. In the series, we meet FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), who together investigate serial killers – who they are and how they are capable of doing what they do. Gradually established Department of Behavioral Studies – winning recognition for its pioneering discoveries and unconventional methods. In his interviews with the murderers, FBI agents put aside prejudice at the front door and try to look past the unreflected stereotypes of mass murderers as "totally crazy". The agents talk to murderers who have done the best of their best – without judging them. They are not treated as monsters to be hidden behind lock and key, but as individuals with a mental life that is understandable, even sympathetic.

Must one be a monster to do monstrous acts? 

Soon they allied themselves with psychologist Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), who helps them get a more scientific form in their investigations.

Sympathetic killer. The first one they interview – a killer named Edmund Kemper – appears both mild and intelligent. His appearance and demeanor are in sharp contrast to his deeds, although he openly – apparently without remorse – admits everything. Eventually, one day the reason for his murders comes from a lack of love and recognition: an absent mother and a lack of interest from the other sex. When faced with contempt and rejection, murder is a way out for him, since he can, in this way, regain some form of control. There is hardly anyone who will find such a "way out" other than disgusting, but it is the friction between what he has done, his gentle nature, a little blatant appearance, and obvious intelligence, that makes him gain the confidence of the agents.

They also get closer to the heart of the matter, namely that serial killers often start early with different forms of deviant behavior.

Man, not monster. One of their main goals is to locate exactly where things went wrong. What is really aberrant behavior? When did this behavior become dangerous? When did killing become associated with desire and lack of compassion? There are no clear answers in the series, but Ford and Tench find that the divergence is often the trait any, seemingly normal, person can recognize in. something unusual in US? Isn't it a fascination or attraction that – if it was developed – could be dangerous? Yes, most of us have a moral apparatus and a capacity for self-censorship that prevents the worst turmoil from coming into daylight. But still: The reason why some become mass murderers is not that they are incomprehensible and completely irrational, but – almost always – that they have been let down as human beings.

Of course, such an admission is hard to hold in practice when we hear about the actions – that someone is having sex with the head of one of those he has killed, for example. But when we look past such crazy deeds, there is a vulnerable man who is seeking love. These two levels are not so easy to unite. It is this, potentially traumatizing, core of investigations, in particular Holden Ford approaches as he attempts to immerse himself in the psychology and life story of the murderers.

The agents talk to murderers who have done the best of their best – without judging them.

Traumatic core. Towards the end of the series – which obviously adds up to more seasons – there are ever more echoes of the mass murderers' moves in Holden's own life. He is neither deviant nor perverse, but details are mirrored in ways that blur the boundaries between the monsters and the formed and sympathetic Holden. When he breaks down in the last episode, it's because he realizes that Kemper is becoming his friend and confidant. He has come so close to the "monster" that man becomes more visible than the cruel acts.

There are many things to say about this very good series, but for me, this is what I am left with: that there are no monsters, only monstrous acts. This simple, almost banal, remark becomes anything but banal in Mindhunter. This is an intelligent and low-key study of the relationship between normality and nonconformity that does not establish anything at all, but opens a space of reflection that we should all take time to think about. Although it can be inconvenient.

You can watch the first season of the series Netflix

Kjetil Røed
Kjetil Røed
Freelance writer.

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