Wednesday 13 September 2023

TV review: Unabomber, Netflix (2018)

It’s remarkable how prescient Ted Kaczinsky – the Unabomber – was and how – in an age where whole towns are seemingly daily swept away by floods or flame – he seems to be relevant now, 40, 50 years after he went on his killing spree. There’s something incredibly quixotic about a man who thought he could bring down Capital by murdering innocent functionaries like university academics.

The pain he cause is real but nevertheless it’s not every day you come across a cold-blooded murderer with a manifesto as assured and complex as Ted’s.

This multi-part series uses interviews conducted with Kaczinsky when he was alive as well as interviews with his brother and sister-in-law (she was the one who initially thought that the Unabomber might be Ted). It’s an assured and interesting production that gets to the heart of the case right up to the point where Kaczinsky was committed to prison.

Even though we already know the outcome the journey through darkness is worthwhile. What strikes me is how similar to artists are career criminals such as Kaczinsky. It’s the application, a word that nowadays has mostly to do with software, the single-minded approach to finding a way to achieve your goals. This doesn’t mean that every artist is a murderer, but certainly the idea that your goals lie outside of the rules of polite society makes the two classes of individual look alike.

Kaczinsky lived in a small hut in the forest in Montana, a site he chose so that he could be away from society. He communicated his endeavours with no one apart from the press and he did this only so that his ideas could be promulgated widely. In taking this step he sealed his own fate because it allowed his sister-in-law to understand who was behind the killings. Something about his prose style convinced her. His brother furthermore came across a document in their mother’s house that Ted had written previously on the same subject. Upon showing this new document to the FBI the authorities knew that they had the right guy.

Kaczinsky will live on as a symbol for many people. The identikit portrait of the killer that the police first made after an attack in California endures as an icon for many. It is instantly identifiable, the hoodie, the aviator sunglasses. If you see it you know you are dealing with something Else.

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