the docuseries Inside the deceiver’s brain (KRO-NCRV) looks very American, but it is really a Dutch program, made by director Robert Oey. In the series, he has known scammers examined by a forensic psychologist, a behavioral scientist and a neurologist to understand how their psyches work. The first patient is the American mortgage fraudster Matthew Cox.
The researchers question him, watch his non-verbal reactions, and measure his brain activity. They see a “flash of anger across his face.” They find that Cox is a smart man, with an above-average knowledge of people, very wary, who can pretend to be an average citizen. †fake averagethey call it. Furthermore, Cox is an adrenaline junkie and suffers from “fear of insignificance.” This can be traced back to his father, an alcoholic who humiliated him.
Cox is a very easy patient: he likes to talk about his crimes, is even proud of them, adds the interpretation himself. He has also told his story several times in the American media. According to the programme, he is serving a 26-year prison term and will be released in 2030. We see grim images of a prison bus and chained prisoners in orange work suits. If Cox is in jail, how can he get a few days off from this program?
A quick Google check gives the answer: Cox was released from prison three years ago. It makes you suspicious. Is Robert Oey trying to cheat me?
The feeling that Into the Impostor’s Brain itself is a scam is mainly due to the staging. Oey does not say where the program was recorded. The word ‘institute’ is mentioned once. Once we get a short shot of a brutalist concrete building. We see images of a car driving through a snowy landscape. Who goes there? Where are we? Furthermore, we mainly see a bare, cold studio. Lots of concrete, anthracite, darkness. Everything is heavily stylized. Also strange: theater maker Basak Layic has the role of hostess, but is not introduced to us. Why all the secrecy? Officially this is a documentary series. Then you expect a little more openness.
The dark, cold overstylization works against the program. Cox doesn’t seem sympathetic, and neither do the researchers. It’s all so distant and hard boiled† What the scientists are uncovering is rather meager. If they had read a few articles about Cox, they would have come to the same conclusions. The neurologist in particular adds little. It does look photogenic scientific, such a swimming cap full of electrodes, but Cox’s brain reacts very averagely. The biggest discovery is that the scammer is not a psychopath, as he likes to introduce himself. Well. When they ask him, Cox immediately says himself that the word “psychopath” is purely for show. To give his profession a little more cachet.
According to the program we all admire this kind of virtuoso con artists† Maybe that’s why it doesn’t work for me: I don’t share Robert Oey’s admiration. I am fascinated by Cox’s life story, but I didn’t hear enough about it.