Symbols in Mindhunter: The Expanding Walls of Psychology

Symbols in Mindhunter: The Expanding Walls of Psychology

Art, literature, photography, motion pictures albeit diverse in nature, but all comes with a singular goal of providing entertainment to the individuals on the receiving end. The pieces of art and creation are always imbibed with shades of human nature. The very psychological shade that sets us apart from the fauna kingdom. Psychological interpretations are thus, at times, quite eye opening for us and helps us to enrich our cognitive frameworks, to add those extra shades of vibrancy that augments our experience and experiencing.

Symbols have time and again provided a kaleidoscopic view on the quirks of life. Jung pointed out that “every psychological expression is a symbol if we assume that it states or signifies something more and other than itself which eludes our present knowledge” (“Definitions”, CW 6, Par. 817). The Netflix original series Mindhunter aspires to be called ‘Psychological’ in the truest sense. It sticks to using the established norms of symbols while creating an aura of mystery to enthrall the viewers. The poster itself sets the mood as it depicts a Rorschach card like inkblot of bloody patches with placing a woman’s face, expressing what can be considered as the throes of pain, in between. This aptly brings out the plight of women in an era of patriarchy slowly giving way to the winds of change and the resentments of those who felt that they were losing ‘control’. Throughout the opening credit are shown pictures of a female rotting corpse which further proves the point. The opening credits also illustrate someone fiddling with a tape recorder. This might point to the act of dissection of the mind through the arts of conversation, thus justifying the title of the series. Conversation thus has been warranted as the most powerful tool for a psychologist to understand and explain crimes.

Throughout the series the grayish overtone of the screen is reminiscent of the film noir that portrayed the plights of the women and the need to reevaluate the social structure and cultural norms. In fact, in most of the episodes a man is shown, unrelated to the central narrative, casing people’s houses, moving about places, and gathering up the nerves to prepare the self for something to come. It can be speculated from his actions that he is a killer in the making, especially from the final scene of the final episode that puts him outside his house, burning page after page of artistic portrayal of dominating and torturing females. Sex as a symbol has been used in a varied way. From Holden’s perspective sex has been shown to be an act of submission as he gives in to the caprices of his girlfriend.

On the other hand, from the outlook of the killers, sex has been portrayed as an element of asserting dominance. One of the serial killers, Ed Kemper, asserts that his lack of control in the face of his dominating and punitive mother led him to harbor and indulge in necrophilia acts just to assert that repressed control, to finally feel that power. The way the four serial killers have been portrayed also begs attention. Ed Kemper is an organized individual in his life of crime, and extremely narcissistic. Monte Rissell is brimming with mockery as he expounds girls as deserving to be killed thus justifying his own acts as a form of deliverance. Jerry Brudos appears to be the breeziest in disposition of the four killers interviewed. While he does display a hard edge in the beginning, he is quick to comply once his paraphilia is indulged.

However, it is the character of Richard Speck, the acid mouth spewing profanities at an accelerated rate while confessing about his crimes as being just for crimes’ sake with no ulterior motives, provides us with a textbook portrayal of Cleckley’s conception of psychopathy. His swift killing of a bird in episode 9 proves point that violence can be unprovoked and unexpected from a psychopath.

The Walls of Psychology are ever expanding, as new bricks of insight are attached to it every passing moment. Although it may still be considered less important in most cases, it is no longer laughed upon. Summing up Mindhunter has done an impeccable job in rekindling the mass interest in the field of psychology and its works.


Devdeep Roy Chowdhury
Devdeep Roy Chowdhury is a Licenced Clinical Psychologist, Guest Lecturer at West Bengal State University and Hiralal Mazumder Memorial College, and a writer from Calcutta. Devdeep is an ardent lover of cinema and dark literature and everything mysterious and macabre. Other than studies and writing, Devdeep is also an impeccable bass-guitarist. Freud, Nietzsche, and Existentialism are his favorite idea of a pastime.

6 Comments on “Symbols in Mindhunter: The Expanding Walls of Psychology

  1. Excellent write up! Mindhunter is indeed a one of a kind show. Unlike most crime thrillers where the detectives are shown to be more inclined towards solving theWho Dunnit crime, this one delves into the whys. A perfect analysis of the riveting show . Well done.

  2. Your sent up proves one thing very distinctly that human mind is never an empty vessel. It is amazing as the thought process of myriad shades and colours continue unabatedly to influence us in various ways. Psychology has always been an area which reflects the spirit of our society as literature does. The examples shown are apt in every possible sense to depict the truth that one cannot stop one’s, mouth nor one’s thought . Further, the question of female sexuality and the pleasure derived by tormenting the fairer sex echo the dark, sombre realism discovered in the various fiction, like Tony Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, where an eleven year child named Pecola was allegedly raped by her father, leading her to a status far beyond the normalcy. So, it is an established fact that psychology and literature are the two intrinsic faces of the same coin, no matter if the paths are different but the goal is same… Keep up your good work dear… With best compliments….Kunal

  3. It is undoubtedly a well presented write up. Subject matter is interpreted aptly. Keep up your good work.
    All the best in your all endeavours.

  4. When I first read your write up, I was kind of forced to watch the series and as you clearly posited the series portrays the possibility of subjective yet somewhat objective thoughts of a criminal(i.e human) in day-to-day life. I have a train of questions for you and It’ll be great if you could answer them.

    1. Do you see a change in personality of the detective Holden, does he appear to be immune to crime by the end? If yes, Given the situation do you believe that a person can be made into a psychopath (losing emotions)?
    2. Do you observe a pattern of Dark triad traits among the serial killer?, Narcissism v.s. Machiavellianism v.s. psychopathy, I ask this because as you can see both, Ed Kemper and Richard Speck effected the life of the detective in some way.
    3. Finally, In the theory of mind, when a Machiavellian is playing or being played by a person, do you believe in the superior personality would have an effect on the game? (BTW Machiavellian & person)

    Thank you and wish you best of luck on your work.
    P.s. check Hannibal too, as we are talking in the terms of TV series.

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