‘Mindhunter’ and the Mind of David Fincher

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A new teaser for the Netflix show sheds light on the director’s conscience.

Few filmmakers so consistently command our attention as David Fincher. Across varied genres, on screens large and small, Fincher has developed a particular style and set of thematic interests that permeate all his work – from Fight Club to The Social Network, The Game to House of Cards. The director’s latest project is Mindhunter, a Netflix series based on the 1996 memoirs of FBI agents John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. A new teaser for the series dropped last week, and it’s chock-full of classic Fincher touches: impeccable compositions, sickly green hues, an (omniscient) steady camera, and, most importantly, a pervasive sense of moral unease. Fincher’s fascination with human deviance has shown itself ever since his earliest work, and Mindhunter seems no different. But, if the teaser is any indication, the new series could provide an insight into the director’s personal conscience that has thus far evaded us in his films.

“I think people are perverts,” Fincher once remarked in a Girl with the Dragon Tattoo featurette. “I’ve maintained that – that’s the foundation of my career.” Though slightly tongue-in-cheek, the remark is certainly borne out by his work. Even before he was splicing single frames of pornography into Fight Club, Fincher made a name foe himself with an American Cancer Society commercial featuring a fetus smoking a cigarette. As his work as progressed, the director has shifted from merely depicting perverse imagery to creating a tone – a consciousness, even – of perversion in most of his films. Like Hitchcock and Kubrick before him, Fincher’s trademark unease comes less from what he shows you than how he shows it to you, suggesting a presence behind the camera with decidedly unsavory interests. Now, with Mindhunter, Fincher has built a series around the (often dangerous) attempt to understand the minds of serial killers and rapists. One can only suspect that the tone Fincher has created will bring the audience disturbingly close to that frame of mind.

Mindhunter stars Jonathan Groff (Hamilton) and Holt McCallany (Fight Club) as FBI Agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench. Ford and Tench work in the behavioral science unit, and snippets of dialogue from the trailer suggest that they push the limits of comfort and sanity to solve cases. “You want truffles? You gotta get in the dirt with the pigs,” Ford says, his tone almost relishing. Perhaps the most suggestive line in the trailer is the final one, from Tench: “How can we get ahead of crazy,” he asks, “if we don’t know how crazy thinks?” Figuring out “how crazy thinks” is a particular interest of Fincher’s, as his work from Fight Club to Gone Girl attests. But the director’s even greater interest seems to be in the faintness of the line between “how crazy thinks” and how the rest of us think.

It’s this question that promises to make Mindhunter such an interesting examination of Fincher’s own beliefs. Is his preoccupation with perversion merely an act of playful sedition, or is he, in his own way, trying to “get ahead of crazy” – that is, to show us our own capacity for perversion, in order that we might resist our darker impulses? Mindhunter takes place in 1979, hearkening back to Fincher’s masterful period serial killer film, Zodiac. That film, too, featured a disturbing attempt to get into the mind of a madman, but it was channeled through the character of Robert Graysmith, a literal boy-scout and picture of innocence. As Guillermo Del Toro noted in a recent tweetstorm about Zodiac, both the killings and the film “crystallized the underbelly of an entire era” – the era during which Fincher grew up. In Zodiac, we see the product of a filmmaker inspired by the warm 70s irreverence of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, then entranced by the dark perversion of Hitchcock and Kubrick. Now, given the opportunity to explore these themes at series-length with Mindhunter, we may finally come to understand how Fincher thinks – and if he is, in fact, crazy.

Check out the teaser below and start getting excited for its Netflix premiere this October.

Writer, filmmaker.