What Makes Mindhunter So Compelling? An Analysis | Netflix

What Makes Mindhunter So Compelling? An Analysis | Netflix


(suspenseful music) – [Narrator] “Mindhunter”
is a dark, tense, and thrilling crime show, but it contains almost no action. Besides the opening scene of season one, we don’t actually see
violence take place on screen, instead most of the focus of
the show is on conversations and information about
crime and psychology. So how does “Mindhunter” make information and conversation so
dramatic and thrilling, drawing you into a story that could easily be dry and academic? In this video, I’ll show
you six of the techniques creators Joe Penhall and David Fincher use in the writing, direction,
and cinematography to draw you into the
world of “Mindhunter.” There will be spoilers for season one, but while I’ll use
examples from season two, the video is free of major plot spoilers for the second season. – I mean, we still can’t
rule out a sequence killer, but if the perpetrator was a townie, then the crime is random,
and there’s no expectation that it will repeat again.
– Here’s my question. Shouldn’t our funding
cover separate rooms? – You don’t like my company? – [Narrator] Generally, what
grabs a viewer’s attention is conflict and drama, not
exposition or information. – You’re really gonna go gothic while I glean profound
insights from the Coed Killer? – It’s my day off. – [Holden] You’re gonna be sorry. – [Narrator] Most crime shows
rely on the drama created in the pursuit of a criminal. While there are investigations
in “Mindhunter,” much of the story lies outside
of those investigations, focusing instead on the development of psychological profiling
as a method of investigation. Understanding that story
requires a lot of exposition and information to be
communicated to the audience. – Ooh, paperwork?
– Yes, it’s hardly sexy, but I’m trying to put
together a list of questions for the killers that you interview. Things like a family history,
mood, thought patterns, before, during, and after the crime. – [Narrator] “Mindhunter”
makes that information and exposition more interesting by giving the information dramatic weight in the character’s lives. – You wanna know what I do? You wanna see what I work on every night? C’mon. – [Narrator] “Mindhunter”
spends a lot of time exploring how the work the agents are
doing impacts them personally. Holden has to find the balance between pursuing the
knowledge he wants to obtain and the psychological toll
of trying to understand how serial killers think will have on him. – There’s nothing wrong–
– If what we’re doing doesn’t get under your skin, you’re either more
screwed up than I thought or you’re kidding yourself. – [Narrator] Tench has to balance the good he can do through his work with the impact it has
on him and his family. – You have to bring that home? What do you do with it? – Examine it for clues. – You don’t tell me a
thing about what you do. – Now you know why. – You don’t need to protect me, Bill. – I’m trying to protect everybody. – No, you need to protect your son. – [Narrator] And Dr. Carr
has to balance the work against hiding who she is. – Do they know you’re lesbian? – Of course not.
– Exactly. You can’t be yourself. – [Narrator] For each member of the team, their journey into learning the psychology of these criminals creates
conflict in their lives that they must work to overcome. – Binary thinking could hamstring you when it comes to critical
assessment of our subjects. We need to understand the gray areas. – World is complex, I get that. – [Narrator] “Mindhunter”
uses its cinematography to illustrate this drama
in the character’s lives. Holden is the main
protagonist of season one and so much of the season focuses on the drama the work creates in his life, and his fight to accomplish that work within the bureaucracy of the FBI. In the traditional visual style, David Fincher, almost all
the shots are very steady, precise, dolly shots, giving the camera a very
objective perspective. We see things clearly and from a distance which is how Holden is trying to approach the subject matter. Throughout the season,
the camera remains steady even as Holden’s emotional
state begins to deteriorate until finally, he breaks and panics. In this moment at the end of season one, we get the only two-handheld shots in the entire first season of the show, (energetic rock music) putting us directly inside Holden’s panic. (energetic rock music) Many shows frequently use
handheld cinematography, but it often doesn’t have
as much impact on the viewer as these shots do here. By withholding a specific technique throughout an entire season and then strategically deploying it, it helps give the climax
of the first season some serious dramatic weight.
(pulsing beat music) In season two, Holden gets what he wants from within the FBI. – These ideas aren’t just progressive. They’re practical and effective. You’ve proven that.
– I’ve tried, but it’s been a battle. – [Narrator] But the
audience now questions whether or not that’s a good
thing for his mental health. Camera shake can now be
used throughout season two to occasionally signify
panic and remind us that he could snap again. As Holden leaves his relationship behind at the end of season one, Bill Tench and Wendy Carr’s personal lives become more of the focus in season two, and the cinematography
is used to support this. Season two often uses slightly
more subjective perspectives of these characters than
we see in season one, placing the audience closer to Bill and Wendy’s emotional states. “Mindhunter” uses cinematography carefully to draw us into the character’s lives, showing us the toll that the
work has on their relationships and the conflict it causes in them. Seeing this makes us more invested both in their individual stories and the work they’re pursuing. As we’ve just seen, the
information and the work creates drama in the character’s
lives on a macro scale across episodes and seasons, but “Mindhunter” often increases the drama of expositional conversations by inserting smaller
conflicts and disagreements between characters into individual scenes. In a scene like this of Holden and Tench interviewing Richard Speck, the writers could’ve
relied on the simple drama of what Richard Speck is talking about, but they insert an
additional layer of conflict. In this scene, it’s Holden
and Tench’s disagreement over the interviewing style. – [Richard] Oh. – [Holden] Did you give it a name? – [Narrator] Which is established simply through a small look. Inserting conflict in these
ways captures our attention, pulling our focus towards the conflict while the characters
talk about information that moves the plot forward. This technique is used
for almost every interview with a serial killer. – Showing mercy.
– What? C’mon, kid. You don’t expect us to buy your mercy of horseshit.
– I think what Agent Tench means–
– But we can see examples of this in many scenes
throughout the entire show. This scene from season one
inserts conflict into a scene because Debby is trying to focus. – What are you reading?
– And Holden wants to talk. This conflict creates a dramatic backdrop for some exposition about psychology that relates to a case
Holden is working on. – I wonder if that’s why everyone is so confused about Roger. He’s taking an activity normally reserved for family members at home and applying it to the wrong environment. – [Narrator] This scene from season two does something similar, establishing interpersonal
conflict in the scene. – [Wendy] You know, whose test is this? Yours or mine? – Just trying to get to know you. – Feels a little like you’re
trying to get to correct me. – Well, would you rather
tell me about whatever it is that you’re burying your face in? – [Narrator] That leads to exposition about Dr. Carr’s last interview. – It’s just a fine line of
giving them enough attention so that they’ll engage with you, but also being able to
steer the conversation. And when it’s over in
just a few minutes, it– – Wasn’t worth the effort? – He was surprisingly
forthcoming in the beginning. He answered every question, even volunteered information. – [Narrator] In nearly every scene, there’s some element of
interpersonal conflict or disagreement between
two or more characters that makes the conversations
more interesting and engaging. – The Geter boy’s been
missing almost a week. We have to move, Holden. – You can’t force a square
peg into a round hole just because you prefer it to fit.
– Bill! – [Narrator] Sometimes, you
don’t even need conflict, just the possibility of
conflict to create tension. Tension is created in this scene through the visual and contextual setup. The subject doesn’t want to be seen. – Nerve damage from the shooting. Remember to face forward. – [Narrator] And so, Bill
Tench can’t look at him. The gun in the truck raises the stakes. Nothing has to happen in the scene, but there’s a feeling that things could escalate very easily. Without any action,
conversation after conversation could become monotonous. “Mindhunter” keeps things interesting by setting conversations
in interesting places. Placing an argument between
Holden and his girlfriend in a grocery store, or having
the agents walk and talk, instead of sitting in a meeting room gives these conversations more variety, and makes them more
interesting the audience. And sometimes, it just comes
down to using a location in an interesting way. In this scene from season two, this conversation could’ve all
happened sitting at a desk, but instead, the location
of the conversation moves four times over the
course of the entire scene, allowing for a greater variety of composition and character blocking. In this scene, the loud
environment of the bar forces the characters to shout. (loud rock music)
– Maybe one of the things wrong with our society
is all the criminality. – I’m talking from a
sociological perspective. – [Narrator] In this one, the environment forces the characters to whisper. – We could do a short escrow. Be out in six weeks. – Nance, did something happen? – I am thinking of Brian. – [Narrator] Both provide variety and make the audience pay closer attention to what’s being said. Another way “Mindhunter”
keeps its conversations fresh is through strong and
interesting visual composition, often using character
blocking and composition inspired by the noir crime
films of the ’40s and ’50s. These kinds of shots give the audience more visual information
to examine and learn from. Many shows or films can fall into the trap of having conversation after conversation take place with the
characters simply sitting across from each other, composing the scenes with basic, medium, and over-the-shoulder shots, but “Mindhunter” uses the
placement of characters within wider shots to communicate subtext. For example, we can see the conflict between Holden and Tench in this shot, simply through the distance
between them in the frame. This shot from season two references the shot from season one and communicates very effectively
how Dr. Carr is feeling about her position in the team. Finally, “Mindhunter” rewards
those who are paying attention to all the criminal psychology
that’s being discussed by giving its characters and
the audience opportunities to apply that knowledge to understanding characters in scenes. – I watch all the cop shows on TV. – Do you know Joseph Wambaugh? (Ed chuckles)
“Police Story,” you ever watch that? – Huge fan!
– Oh. – Just came walking up off the street. “Hey, what happened, did anybody see?” He’d been drinking. One of these guys who likes
talking to cops, you know? – [Narrator] There are several small cases throughout season one and an
essential case in season two. And the details of these cases often hinge on what’s being discussed
in the interviews and discussions about criminal psychology, but “Mindhunter” often
leaves those connections between the interviews and
the cases up to the audience to discover, sometimes episodes apart. Allowing the audience to draw
these connections on their own increases their engagement. The short scenes at the
beginning of most episodes that show a mysterious man
preparing for a killing serve a similar purpose to the cases. They’re not just setting
up future seasons, but gives the audience an
opportunity to look for clues and to try to psychologically
profile the character on their own. There are plenty of small details and connections you can catch like the knots the killer
is practicing being similar to the ones in this
photo from a crime scene shown an episode later. “Mindhunter” is effectively
rewarding the audience member who is paying attention
and examining the criminals in the same way the lead characters are. Every story needs drama and conflict to draw in its audience, but “Mindhunter’s” subject matter and non-traditional approach
to a crime show requires it to be inventive with how it
creates that drama and conflict. As we’ve seen here,
careful crafting of scenes and intentional use of cinematography are critical not only in establishing, but selling that conflict, pulling the audience deeper
into the minds of the characters as they explore the minds of some of the worst criminals on Earth.

Danny Hutson

11 thoughts on “What Makes Mindhunter So Compelling? An Analysis | Netflix

  1. This is such a good show and I want to congratulate you Netflix for using your channel not just for trailers and info but to spotlight creators.
    Well done!

  2. Wow..this is really cool! Thank you for the analysis. Mindhunter is that kind of show that draws viewers attention through all episodes. Simply amazing!

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