Saturday, December 23, 2017

Mindhunter | Lefsetz Letter


I loved it, but I don’t recommend it.

It’s imperfect. You’re not sure where it’s going. The end is unsatisfying. But the TONE!

We live in an upbeat society, when people are not complaining. Used to be we read books and saw movies about the internal dialogue, you know, the one you’re having right now, about your hopes, dreams and wishes as well as your obligations. When you speak to how I feel, then I’m really interested.

I watched it because David Fincher was involved. In the late sixties and seventies the auteur was king, before the studios took back power and movies went to hell, becoming lowbrow epics made for coin. That’s the scourge of America, we judge everybody and everything based on how much money it makes. Whereas some stuff doesn’t appeal to everybody, doesn’t top the chart, but is better than all the rest.

So Fincher was a video director who got into film and has made many, not all of them my favorites, but the one I’ll never forget is “Zodiac.” Because of the feel, because of the tone.

“Mindhunter” has that same tone.

The late seventies.

No one talks about that era anymore except to make fun of it. The eighties were go-go, the MTV era wherein everybody sold out, but the seventies were about inflation and just living your life in the wake of the tumultuous sixties. We had trends, we had TV shows, but no one ever goes back there and captures what it was really like.

Except Fincher.

THE CARS! I know each and every one of them, like driving with my father when he pointed out the seemingly indistinguishable forties and fifties automobiles. The boxy Americans. The VW bug.

And the CLOTHING! The fringe skirt.

Credit not only the set dresser, but the cinematographer. Real life is not this rich, it’s often brighter, but the darker elements of this show set your mind adrift to how it once was.

And I know millennials don’t care. That’s fine with me. But once upon a time there was no internet, nobody knew what you were up to 24/7, and you had to leave the house to have a good time. Hell, that’s why we had so many bands!

So what the show is ultimately about is the FBI, and a research project wherein they profile serial killers, actually they come up with that term.

But you won’t know this from the start. You’ve got to watch a few episodes to get what they’re up to. But when you do…

The serial killers are fascinating. The goal is to find patterns, but what goes through the mind of a deviant, what caused them to act this way? Psychology gets a bad rap. Today you’re supposed to take a pill for your maladies. But nothing is as exciting as psychotherapy. Not with the hack on your insurance, but a bona fide psychiatrist. The exploration of the human mind. Everybody’s messed-up. It’s so much fun to analyze them. As well as yourself. You can change your behavior and see the results, but most people refuse to do this, refuse to look inward, for fear they’ll lose something…no, they’ll GAIN something. You too can get ahead in life, but it costs. That’s the dirty little secret, everything good costs. And most people, especially older people, want to invest in something tangible, that you own when it’s all done. Youngsters are more about experiences. Ergo their fascination with restaurant meals. But all we’ve got is the human condition, it’s worth investigating.

And that’s what Jonathan Groff does.

If you saw “Hamilton” on Broadway, the original cast, you’ll know he played the king. But you won’t recognize him, his role is completely different. And in the seventies no one wanted to be a cop. So why did he choose to be one?

And then there’s his girlfriend Hannah Gross, the most spot-on performance of the series. She’s attractive and she knows it. She’s manipulative and she knows it. She’s confident and she knows it. She’s studying psychology, when she’s not angsting about paying so many dues, that’s the question, do you delay gratification? And she wants Groff’s character, but she doesn’t want to be controlled by him. She’s a modern woman, you can’t take your eyes off her.

And then there’s Holt McCallany, the brush cut dude who’s by the book but chafes at it. He doesn’t want to think, but when he does he loves the results.

And Anna Torv as their overseer. There’s something creepy about her, she’s unpredictable, you keep trying to figure her out.

Unlike the FBI chief, who can only play by the rules. This is why you hate school, this is why you hate working for the man.

Cameron Britton, as killer Edmund Kemper, almost steals the show. He’s quiet. He’s got the guards in the palm of his hand. But he did it, he killed all those women, WHY?

And the rest of the serial killers are just about as interesting but the star is…


He creates this mood, this maelstrom. It’s not fast-paced, it goes into nooks and crannies, it doesn’t often build, and unlike seemingly every series in creation, it doesn’t come to a neat conclusion at the end of every episode. Fincher directed four episodes, as well as being a producer, and if you liked the first season of “House of Cards,” which he was involved with, you’ll probably like “Mindhunter.”

You see either you will or you won’t. Or you’ll watch all ten episodes even though you won’t realize you’re hooked until the end. That’s the modern era, that’s why movies are passe. We like the longer form, we like to go deeper.

And what I like to go deeply about most is people. Characters. They don’t have to develop, but I definitely want to peer inside. I want to see the layers of the onion peeled back. And I want their actions to be consistent with reality. I want to go inside the series and forget my everyday life. I want to live in the show.

I lived in “Mindhunter.”

Check it out. You’ll either be in or out. You’ve got to watch two or three episodes, and if you do you’ll never watch one again or be so curious you do.

Where are they going? Why are the people acting this way?

Isn’t it so interesting that the calling of the investigators is not about money and fame.

That’s great work, when you do it for the love of it.

Curiously, the serial killers are in it for the fame.

And look where it leaves them.


There’s a thin line between us and them.

P.S. I only recommend things I believe most people will like. Ten percent of the public will hate everything, forget them. But the key to recommendation is to get into the head of the person you’re giving the recommendation to. Which is why I do not recommend this show. I don’t want you watching and telling me the arc is imperfect, that it meanders and isn’t tied up as well as it should be. All that is true! But if what I’ve written here appeals to you, go for it. Kinda like when I watched Siskel & Ebert review Jonathan Demme’s “Something Wild.” They were not abundantly positive about it, but what they said was intriguing. It made me see it. “Something Wild” is a flawed movie, the two halves don’t really hang together, but it’s one of my absolute favorites.


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