Mar 16, 2015

TV Retrospective: "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst"

Robert Durst
True crime stories are everywhere you turn in pop culture. Last fall saw the rise in popularity of the Serial podcast. With director Andrew Jarecki's HBO series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, the series not only managed to piggyback on the success of the podcast, but served as a more unnerving portrait of real life. In the day leading up to the miniseries' finale, the protagonist was in the news for being arrested on the accounts of murder. This shouldn't take away from the series, but help to explain the fascination with Robert Durst, who was wanted on several accounts of murder. Over the course of six episodes, there's a strong sense of his psychopathic tendencies on display and more than anything, it presents an unnerving portrait of why true crime stories will always fascinate audiences.
The initial conceit of the series started in Texas when a police officer found a dismembered body in the bay. From there, it came to discuss the person's neighbor Durst, who on top of other things cross dressed and purposefully stole food from a grocery store. It almost seemed like he wanted to get caught in a very cinematic fashion. As time would progress in the story, Durst would be revealed to have had a strained relationship with his family, which owned a multi-million dollar organization. In fact, the most peculiar thing about it all is the drive to make the series. After seeing Jarecki's previous fictional film All Good Things, Durst personally contacted Jarecki for an interview. The results are The Jinx.
It would be tedious to go through all of the details. However, with Jarecki's experience in the Oscar-nominated Capturing the Friedmans, he applied his skills in a labor of love. Mixing interviews with other testimonies, archival footage and reenactments, Jarecki brought the story to life, making important moments scattered throughout into visual portraits. While the narration would happen, there would be scenes of investigators going through collected evidence or characters reenacting key moments in Durst's story such as his odd childhood. It was a visceral treat that was entirely emphasized int he opening credits with an explosive song and unnerving footage that would come to make sense throughout the episodes. Of course, it also felt like an implicit nod to HBO's crime show phenomenon of last year: True Detective
At the core of what made The Jinx noteworthy programming was Durst himself. It wasn't just that his story was peculiar. He was, in the moment, a little off. He seemed closeted in the way he talked and when he was candid he spoke of violent things, it seemed like nothing. He was an disaffected force that drove the story. His dry approach fit perfectly with the visuals and ended up creating something that almost felt more fictional. While reality will show that he actually did it, there is something to listening to him talk. He's too distant to ever feel guilty, yet he is creepy enough to suggest so. He is an enigmatic presence that makes strong cases both ways. Of course, in the miniseries' phenomenal final moment, he confesses literally with his pants down.
The Jinx feels like a series that will only grow in popularity over time, especially as Durst publicly becomes discussed. However, it is no small feat for Jarecki to create something so engrossing about him. It speaks to societal interest in understanding how a murderer's mind works. It also serves as a testament as to how media can influence societal change: first by finding Durst because of a movie and then the police by way of this miniseries. If anything, The Jinx gets points for managing to right history and put a murderer in his place, even if he seemed to put himself in the odd position of getting caught.
It isn't entirely clear what Durst's intentions were for going through with the series. Of course, nobody truly understands the mind of a criminal unless he is one. However, the notion that he confronted Jarecki about it still may be the strangest thing of all. It makes for compelling footage, but why would a man who understood his guilt come forward simply because a film got his story wrong at fear of being arrested? Durst remains an odd figure in this sense who likely did it for some personal joy. It still made for a unique series that only continues to make HBO's brand shine thanks to great interviews and shocking reveals. Overall a worthwhile experience for those into true crime.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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