Hollywood Features

Mindhunter: Not Just A Crime Thriller On Serial Killers, It’s Also A Study Of 70s America

“Venture into the darkness and shine a light into the darkness,” is what Holden Ford, the young rebellious FBI agent, sums up his job as. He is fascinated by the psychology of criminals, while his department is only interested in eliminating the weed. This conflict is where Mindhunter, the latest Netflix breakout series created by Joe Penhall and co-produced by David Fincher, starts off.


Ten episodes down, Mindhunter has proved itself to be an arresting crime drama set in the tumultuous America of the late 70s, right after Vietnam war when anti-establishment rage was fuming around. Two FBI agents decide to take the unfamiliar and rugged road of criminal psychology to solve crimes. But they have to convince their extremely skeptic bosses first.

The high point of Mindhunter is not action scenes (which are hardly there), but in scenes of conversation. Cops talking to cops. Cops talking to psychopaths. Male cops talking to women who are smarter than them, trying to gauge the emotional and intellectual distance between them. There is Ed Kemper, a character based on a real life namesake, a serial killer who murdered his grandparents and many women, including his mother, and had sex with their corpses. When we see him in Mindhunter, he is a refined talker, having spent over seven years at the federal correction facility. What can possibly come out of the mouth of a man who has mastered the art of talking to cops? It turns out that some of the best moments in the entire series belong to this man, six-foot five inches tall, bespectacled, and strangely calm. The waves of violence lurks beneath the placid facade that he has created for himself. He offers his experiences as an expert murderer to the use of FBI, and at one point, expresses a wish to write a book someday.

Parallels could be drawn between Holden and Zodiac’s Robert Greysmith, for they share an obsessive interest in pursuing the dark. If Robert was hysterically into one killer, Holden is vehemently trying to implement a new awakening that he has – that sociology and psychology can really change the way his department works. He is shrewdly self-centered, and quite unapologetic about it. The transformation of Holden from a straight-faced curious young agent to a man who grows bigger than his team, and eventually, gets demolished by his own devils, is fantastically portrayed.


Holden is based on John E Douglas, the famed FBI agent whose 1995 book, Mind Hunter: Inside The FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit served as an inspiration to Fincher and Penhall in creating the series. This isn’t the first time someone has made a crime drama based on Douglas. Jack Crawford, a character that appears in Thomas Harris’ books in Hannibal Lector series, was modeled on Douglas.

Apart from the thrills that it offer, Mindhunter is also a careful study of America in the late 70s. Does the society create the criminals, or are they born that way, crazy and genetically violent? Does a gun in the car give a potential killer a kick to start a murder spree? Does the government, which has committed far greater crimes such as the war that annihilated a generation of men and women, have the right to run a force like FBI? What does one become when the only people you are able to communicate freely is a bunch of criminals whom you consider as your ‘friends’? This is bigger than just a cop story.


Photo courtesy: YouTube