From The Journal Of Screenwriting 5 : Crafting an ‘authentic’ monster: Dialogue, genre and ethical questions in Mindhunter (2017)

Highlighting the articles in the latest edition of the Journal of Screenwriting, of which I am the Book Reviews Editor. Hopefully these abstracts will entice you to did a little deeper into the history and future of screenwriting. — Rosanne

Crafting an ‘authentic’ monster: Dialogue, genre and ethical questions in Mindhunter (2017)
Erica Moulton

Extended scenes of idiosyncratic dialogue between a serial killer and profiler are emblematic of the first season of Joe Penhall and David Fincher’s Netflix series Mindhunter. In examining this aspect of the series, my article engages with several burgeoning areas of study in screenwriting and adaptation, notably the intersection of ethics, genre and dialogue. Mindhunter falls squarely into the serial killer subset of the crime procedural genre, following two FBI agents as they interview incarcerated killers under the purview of the newly formed Behavioral Science Unit. In exploring the origin and deployment of highly psychologized speech, I argue that conventions within the serial killer subgenre and the invocation of non-fictional source material led the show’s writers to rely on codes of ‘authenticity’ in crafting the dialogue. Building on studies of screenwriting and genre by Jule Selbo, I also argue that the interview scenes depicted on Mindhunter between the FBI agents and the serial killers can be broken down into various dialogue typologies. The dialogue in these scenes presents the killer as a fount of wisdom, the investigator as an eager receptacle and the psychological boundaries between the two characters as disturbingly permeable. I conclude by probing the ethical underpinnings of this typology considering how screenwriters navigate the tensions between on-screen representation and the framing of ‘authentic’ content.

Journal of Screenwriting Cover

The Journal of Screenwriting is an international double-blind peer-reviewed journal that is published three times a year. The journal highlights current academic and professional thinking about the screenplay and intends to promote, stimulate and bring together current research and contemporary debates around the screenplay whilst encouraging groundbreaking research in an international arena. The journal is discursive, critical, rigorous and engages with issues in a dynamic and developing field, linking academic theory to screenwriting practice. 

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