Manhunt: Unabomber, a review

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Manhunt: Unabomber, a review

By John Ruberry

Man­hunt: Unabomber, is an engross­ing eight-​episode Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel mini-​series, which is also avail­able on Net­flix, that dra­ma­tizes the search for the man dubbed the Unabomber by the FBI, Ted Kaczynski.

Sam Wor­thing­ton, best known for his star­ring role in Avatar, stars as James “Fitz” Fitzger­ald, the FBI pro­filer and lin­guist who con­nects what became known as the Unabomber Man­i­festo to writ­ings by ser­ial bomber turned into the FBI by Kaczynski’s brother, James.

The Unabomber’s attack spree began with the explo­sion of a device that caused minor injuries in 1978 at North­west­ern Uni­ver­sity and ended the fatal attack with a much more sophis­ti­cated bomb that killed a tim­ber indus­try lob­by­ist in Cal­i­for­nia in 1995. Two other peo­ple were mur­dered by Kaczynski’s bombs, sev­eral more were per­ma­nently maimed.

Shortly after the mur­der of he lob­by­ist, in what the still-​unidentified Kaczyn­ski later dis­missed as a prank, he threat­ened to blow up a jet air­liner. Ten months later Kaczyn­ski was arrested in his prim­i­tive cabin Mon­tana after a search war­rant was issued that was based largely on the FBI’s lin­guis­tic analy­sis. Inside the cabin loads of incrim­i­nat­ing evi­dence was dis­cov­ered, includ­ing a bomb ready to be mailed.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_102646” align=“alignleft” width=“209”] FBI sketch of the Unabomber[/caption]

Paul Bet­tany por­trays the for­mer math­e­mat­ics pro­fes­sor in an appro­pri­ately enig­matic fash­ion. Is Kaczyn­ski, who is serv­ing six life sen­tences at the “Super­max” prison in Col­orado, an evil man? Or is he a deeply trou­bled genius try­ing to find the elu­sive bal­ance between cre­ativ­ity and mad­ness, in a man­ner rem­i­nis­cent of Vin­cent van Gogh’s struggles?

Man­hunt explores Kaczynski’s youth in the blue col­lar south­west Chicago sub­urb of Ever­green Park. A social mis­fit, Kaczyn­ski was double-​promoted in ele­men­tary school but, as his Man­hunt char­ac­ter says, “I was still the smartest one in my class.” Enter­ing Har­vard at 16, Kaczyn­ski was men­tally tor­tured in cruel exper­i­ments con­ducted by psy­chi­a­trist Henry Mur­ray (Brian d’Arcy in the series). In this statue-​razing era, I say if there is one of Mur­ray stand­ing some­where, tear it down now.

Kaczyn­ski gets into the head of Fitzger­ald in his many jail­house inter­views with him. But there’s a prob­lem here. This is a drama­ti­za­tion of the Unabom story – there were no meet­ings between the two. Here’s another: the lin­guis­tics pro­fes­sor with whom the mar­ried Fitz has a soft romance with in the series, was in real life a man.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_102647” align=“alignright” width=“224”] Aban­doned rail line north of Chicago[/caption]

On the other hand, Kaczyn­ski gets into the heads of view­ers, or at least this one. My degree of sep­a­ra­tion with the Unabomber is three. A friend of mine who lives in Lom­bard, Illi­nois, where Kaczynski’s par­ents moved to around 1970, used to have cof­fee at the home of his par­ents. “A nice and sweet old cou­ple,” she told me. They never men­tioned any­thing about their sons to her. Just a cou­ple of blocks from the Kaczynski’s mod­est frame house in Lom­bard is the Illi­nois Prairie Path, which was con­structed in the late 1960s, it was the first trail in Amer­ica cre­ated from an aban­doned rail line. After the terrorist’s arrest and con­vic­tion, I mused while run­ning on the Prairie Path that per­haps he was inspired by the pas­tor­al­iza­tion of the old Chicago, Aurora & Elgin Rail­way. Per­haps post-​industrial soci­ety was that not far away, Kaczyn­ski may have rea­soned. He lived with his par­ents in Lom­bard for a while in the 1970s.

The Indus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion and its con­se­quences have been a dis­as­ter for the human race” is the open­ing sen­tence in the Unabomber Man­i­festo. A few para­graphs later he adds, “We there­fore advo­cate a rev­o­lu­tion against the indus­trial system.”

Bettany’s Unabomber is a bit too sym­pa­thetic of a por­trayal for me. Miss­ing are the cold-​blooded jour­nal entries recount­ing his bomb­ings, includ­ing one described as “excel­lent.” In another recount­ing, Kaczyn­ski expressed “no regret” that his last mur­der vic­tim was not his intended target.

Peo­ple with advanced degrees aren’t as smart as they think they are,” Kaczyn­ski mock­ingly wrote to one of his vic­tims who was severely wounded by one of his bombs. “If you’d had any brains you would have real­ized that there are a lot of peo­ple out there who resent bit­terly the way tech­non­erds like you are chang­ing the world and you wouldn’t have been dumb enough to open an unex­pected pack­age from an unknown source.”

John Ruberry reg­u­larly blogs at Marathon Pun­dit and he is a native of Chicago’s south­west sub­urbs.

By John Ruberry

Manhunt: Unabomber, is an engrossing eight-episode Discovery Channel mini-series, which is also available on Netflix, that dramatizes the search for the man dubbed the Unabomber by the FBI, Ted Kaczynski.

Sam Worthington, best known for his starring role in Avatar, stars as James “Fitz” Fitzgerald, the FBI profiler and linguist who connects what became known as the Unabomber Manifesto to writings by serial bomber turned into the FBI by Kaczynski’s brother, James.

The Unabomber’s attack spree began with the explosion of a device that caused minor injuries in 1978 at Northwestern University and ended the fatal attack with a much more sophisticated bomb that killed a timber industry lobbyist in California in 1995. Two other people were murdered by Kaczynski’s bombs, several more were permanently maimed.

Shortly after the murder of he lobbyist, in what the still-unidentified Kaczynski later dismissed as a prank, he threatened to blow up a jet airliner. Ten months later Kaczynski was arrested in his primitive cabin Montana after a search warrant was issued that was based largely on the FBI’s linguistic analysis. Inside the cabin loads of incriminating evidence was discovered, including a bomb ready to be mailed.

FBI sketch of the Unabomber

Paul Bettany portrays the former mathematics professor in an appropriately enigmatic fashion. Is Kaczynski, who is serving six life sentences at the “Supermax” prison in Colorado, an evil man? Or is he a deeply troubled genius trying to find the elusive balance between creativity and madness, in a manner reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh’s struggles?

Manhunt explores Kaczynski’s youth in the blue collar southwest Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park. A social misfit, Kaczynski was double-promoted in elementary school but, as his Manhunt character says, “I was still the smartest one in my class.” Entering Harvard at 16, Kaczynski was mentally tortured in cruel experiments conducted by psychiatrist Henry Murray (Brian d’Arcy in the series). In this statue-razing era, I say if there is one of Murray standing somewhere, tear it down now.

Kaczynski gets into the head of Fitzgerald in his many jailhouse interviews with him. But there’s a problem here. This is a dramatization of the Unabom story–there were no meetings between the two. Here’s another: the linguistics professor with whom the married Fitz has a soft romance with in the series, was in real life a man.

Abandoned rail line north of Chicago

On the other hand, Kaczynski gets into the heads of viewers, or at least this one. My degree of separation with the Unabomber is three. A friend of mine who lives in Lombard, Illinois, where Kaczynski’s parents moved to around 1970, used to have coffee at the home of his parents. “A nice and sweet old couple,” she told me. They never mentioned anything about their sons to her. Just a couple of blocks from the Kaczynski’s modest frame house in Lombard is the Illinois Prairie Path, which was constructed in the late 1960s, it was the first trail in America created from an abandoned rail line. After the terrorist’s arrest and conviction, I mused while running on the Prairie Path that perhaps he was inspired by the pastoralization of the old Chicago, Aurora & Elgin Railway. Perhaps post-industrial society was that not far away, Kaczynski may have reasoned. He lived with his parents in Lombard for a while in the 1970s.

“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race” is the opening sentence in the Unabomber Manifesto. A few paragraphs later he adds, “We therefore advocate a revolution against the industrial system.”

Bettany’s Unabomber is a bit too sympathetic of a portrayal for me. Missing are the cold-blooded journal entries recounting his bombings, including one described as “excellent.” In another recounting, Kaczynski expressed “no regret” that his last murder victim was not his intended target.

“People with advanced degrees aren’t as smart as they think they are,” Kaczynski mockingly wrote to one of his victims who was severely wounded by one of his bombs. “If you’d had any brains you would have realized that there are a lot of people out there who resent bitterly the way technonerds like you are changing the world and you wouldn’t have been dumb enough to open an unexpected package from an unknown source.”

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit and he is a native of Chicago’s southwest suburbs.