When I say the words – ‘Terrorist’, ‘Murderer’, ‘Criminal’, the usual categories that would light up in your brain would be turban-clad Arabic men wielding guns on some hapless civilians or journalists. We feel gratified by the sense that we are more civilized and well-bred than those clinically insane and morally corrupt individuals who we feel hard-pressed to even categorize as human beings. And yet, our notions couldn’t be farther than the truth. The motivations of these social outcasts and anarchs are much more complex than the unidimensional purpose we assign to them. At the risk of extolling his personality, Bin Laden, the World’s Most Wanted Terrorist before his alleged death, was said to have been a civil engineer who had undergone the best education the West could have offered. Even after conducting the atrocities that he did, he was able to thwart some of the most capable intelligence agencies of the world including the FBI and the CIA. In the 2002 film Catch me if you can, directed by Steven Spielberg and adapted from a true story, Frank Abagnale was a master conman who led the FBI on a merry chase across America. Through his life-experiences, he had developed a specific set of skills and mannerisms that allowed him to manipulate people and make them believe anything that he wanted them to believe.
Such criminal masterminds, if we may call them so, not only change the society but also law enforcement significantly. They are ones who have closely studied how the Police system and the Judiciary works. Using conventional techniques against them, in this case, would not only be ineffective but they may also cause actual harm resulting in some innocent guy being taken into custody. Someone who was just at the wrong place at the wrong time and fit the profile. During such dire circumstances when you have to be creative, there have been avante gardes who have risen to the occasion and seen the subliminal patterns in the crimes that their peers had not been able to see. Such is the story of Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber of the 90s and Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald, a criminal profiler and Forensic Linguist for the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit.
Created by Andrew Sodroski, Jim Clemente and Tony GIttelson, Netflix’s miniseries, Manhunt: Unabomber captures the rising tension within the ranks of the FBI during the 90s, as their best officers wracked their brains trying to find even a single piece of evidence that would help them triangulate the whereabouts of Kaczynski. In order to bring in some fresh perspective into the investigation, SAC Don Ackerman looked to the Behavioral Analysis Unit for help and Jim Fitzgerald, one of their top analysts, was assigned to the case. Fitz, as he was generally called, had served in the Police force as a “beat cop” who worked in the vapid Graffiti Police unit and had had no real experience working on a high-profile case as that of the UNABOM. By the time he entered the team, the Forensics guys had amassed a truckload of evidence that consisted of bits and pieces of the bombs that Kaczynski had sent to his victims via the US Mail. His modus operandi had targeted Universities and Airplanes between 1978 and 1995, which had earned him the title of the UNABOMBER, ‘Un’ for University and ‘A’ for Airplanes. Despite the evidence that the FBI had, they had absolutely no clue about how he looked or where he was from. Some potential eye-witnesses had claimed to see him before the explosions, and police sketches had been made but that was it.
Imagine living in a world, where you are wary of any kind of parcel delivered to you. You have no way of knowing if it would blow up while you’re trying to open it. That applied to planes too. Any one of the hundreds of packages being carried in the cargo could blow up the plane. Amidst this terror, FBI had no idea if Kaczynski was a 30 year old or a 50 year old or even older; was he tall or short; lean or fat; did he carry a beard? There were just so many profile details that they could search for decades without result. However, the FBI had another piece of clue that they are not really considered to be serious evidence. The Unabomber had also been sharing letters with the FBI, signing them as FC. The letters were all spoken in first person plural as if it were the work of a terrorist group and not an individual. Fitz found these letters very interesting as he understood that language could provide a lot of details that forensics had failed to find. However, there was no precedent in Law enforcement about such Linguistic analysis techniques. In fact, they didn’t even have a name for it. And thanks to Fitz’s un-exemplary background, convincing everyone about his theories would be more than an uphill climb.
Sam Worthington’s character of Fitz is wrought with an insecurity harboured from his humble background and a seething self-doubt that he struggled with, due to the skepticism that he encountered among his peers in the UNABOM Task Force (UTF). Worthington’s innate introverted personality plays well with Fitz’s portrayal of an analyst who is still learning the ropes of a critical investigation and at the same time, trying to delve into the mind of one of the smartest criminals in recorded history. Worthington’s character is insipid at times, as if unaware of what emotion he is supposed to express in certain situations. He has a wife and kids but he feels detached, living in a far-off realm. As he unravels the profile of the man behind the Unabom letters, his professional assignment gradually takes the form of an obsession as he makes it his life’s mission to find this man. Worthington upholds a boyish curiosity and a childish sentiment at the same time.
After the first half of the series that is told from Fitz’s perspective, the narrative shifts to Kaczynski’s side of things and that’s when the story becomes intriguing. After all, this is the story of the Unabomber, more than anyone else. Kaczynski had been a prodigy since childhood, attending the prestigious Harvard University at a tender age of 16, and specializing in Mathematics. Even in school, his parents had made him skip grades, which meant that all his life, he had been the odd one out. Always the smartest in his class, and always the most persecuted. Most of his radical views about a ‘Technology-free society’ developed during his stint at Harvard in the 50s. After Harvard, Kaczynski went on to earn a PhD. In Mathematics from the University of Michigan where he also taught for a while before retiring to his cabin in the woods of Montana. Despite his IQ of 168 or maybe because of it, Kaczynski suffered from extreme social awkwardness. Even though his brother David supported him from time to time, Kaczynski stayed isolated, living in his cabin without electricity or water, surviving on whatever he could catch in the forest and on his philosophies of a “Utopian Society”. Paul Bettany’s portrayal of Kaczynski is Hannibal-esque, through his calm composure and his unbent capacity to intellectual thought. Bettany carries off Kaczynski’s haggard appearance and complements it with a pair of eyes that sparkle with innate wisdom. He speaks with a purpose, without wasting a breath but with a quiet determination.
Manhunt: Unabomber takes you on a journey on two separate paths, trodden by men who couldn’t have been farther apart in the social spectrum and yet similar in more than one way. One was a man who had been demeaned his entire life as a non-entity and another was a man who had a voice that no one was ready to listen to. In a way, both of them were struggling to propagate their ideas to the world. The only difference was in their approaches. If you have never heard of Kaczynski before, you will probably enter the series expecting an intense police race against time, as they try to avert a bomber’s threats. But the story of Ted Kaczynski would take you by surprise. It shows that even the best of us, can sometimes fall prey to our inner demons. As one of the language experts says in the series [not sic] – “His story is kinda sad when you think what a man of his intellect and capabilities could have achieved…”. And that is the real tragedy of crime.
It shows that even the best of us, can sometimes fall prey to our inner demons. As one of the language experts says in the series [not sic] – “His story is kinda sad when you think what a man of his intellect and capabilities could have achieved…”. And that is the real tragedy of crime.
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