‘Truth is really stranger than fiction’. That’s the phrase which came to my mind after watching HBO’s gripping six part documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” (2015). The series opens with real footages showing a grisly murder scene in Galveston, Texas. A human torso was found on a lake and several other trash bags, containing severed limbs. The head of the victim was never recovered, but the victim was identified as Morris Black, a 73 year old loner. The police who searched Black’s apartment got a tip which led them to look for an old, deaf-mute woman ‘Dorothy Cinder’. In Cinder’s apartment, beneath the floor covering, there were blood stains (which matched to Morris Black’ blood). Further investigations made the police to believe that there is no Cinder; it was actually old man in disguise. They eventually picked up an old man, dressed in simple clothes, in connection with Black’s murder. He didn’t show much reaction when the police said why he was arrested and also when stated that the bail is set at $250,000. The law officials might have thought ‘this as just another murder case’, but then the old man raised the ludicrous amount set for bail. It also turns out that the old man was Robert Durst, heir to one of the most powerful business families (The Durst Organization) in Manhattan.
Robert was actually on the run from media & judiciary attention, which he gained due to the disappearance of his wife Kathleen Durst (a final year medical college student), in 1982. The case was never solved, although a lot of evidences and testimonies pointed fingers at Robert. Film-maker Andrew Jarecki, who made the provocative documentary “Capturing the Friedmans” (2003) ventured into feature-film making in 2010 with “All Good Things”. The film was based on the 1982 disappearance of Kathleen (diffused with the usual fictionalization). Jarecki wanted the film to be balanced one; the one where “Durst could sit and watch and have an emotional reaction”. The emotional reaction Robert Durst had might have been too much that he called Jarecki and wanted to sit with him to do a lengthy interview, explaining his side of the story. Director Jarecki immediately accepts it and sets in motion, one of the most compelling true-crime documentary series.
Whether or not you are familiar with Durst’s story or the movie “All Good Things”, Jarecki offers a very absorbing dissection of the cases & mysteries surrounding Durst. The conversation between him and Durst is said to run for more than dozens of hours, which were impeccably edited to fit in and acts as a backbone for the series. Jarecki has also gone to great lengths to interview everyone involved in the case: from police detectives to Kathleen’s friends to Durst’s family members. All these conversations offer different interpretations and vitally humanizes each & everyone, whose lives are touched by these gruesome murders. Jarecki employs full range of documentary techniques like archival footage, re-enactments, voice-overs, visiting the crime scene, etc. He astoundingly maintains a certain detachment from his interviewees. Instead of suggesting the circumstances or providing the contexts behind the mysteries, he only goes for proofs & facts and showcases everything said as a point of view.
Jarecki’s approach to Durst’ tale, to an extent, relinquishes the unsavory projections, assumptions that are being done in modern true-crime. From an ideological perspective, the film-maker does use some off-putting techniques, now and then, and drags a little as some contexts keeps on repeating the events of the past. But, we are definitely engrossed to learn about Durst’s guilt or innocence. In the first episode, Jarecki shows how Durst, despite having ample amount of money, stole a sandwich, which led to his arrest (after he had jumped the bail). This little incident perfectly displays Durst’s ego, which is actually a vital theme that is reverberated throughout the documentary. The combination of human frailty and ego seems to have played a part in him giving the interview or stealing a chicken sandwich or ‘may be’ in the murders. The final ‘off the record’ comments by Durst himself offers one of the most chilling insights to his mind.
“The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” (279 minutes) is one of the most unnerving and engulfing true-crime documentary series ever made. Film-makers who make documentaries usually choose their subjects through some sensational headlines, whereas “The Jinx” had provided few headlines, which eventually sealed the fate of Robert Durst.