The Oxford American Dictionary’s primary definition of jinx is “a person or thing that brings bad luck.” Following today’s news that Robert Durst has been arrested in New Orleans on a Los Angeles County warrant just hours prior to the HBO finale of “The Jinx”, one could think that Durst has finally jinxed himself. After watching the first five episodes, perhaps the more apt assumption is that Durst is getting what he wants, or pending the outcome of his latest arrest, what he deserves. Why does a man with ample cash steal a $6 sandwich, after skipping bail on charges of murder and dismembering a body? Or why does a man whose notoriety has faded over the 10 years since that death had taken place, contact a filmmaker that had made a dramatic film about the disappearance of his first wife to interview him to present “his side of the story”? Is Robert Durst the sociopath that thinks he can get away with anything, or is he the killer that wants to be caught?
Contradictions like these lie at the heart of Andrew Jarecki’s six part series. Starting out as a rather standard crime documentary that wore its indebtedness to Errol Morris’ “The Thin Blue Line” on its sleeve, it has grown into something different entirely. Due to both the series’ peeling back the layers of Durst’s alleged crimes and of Durst himself, and the drama currently taking place in news headlines, “The Jinx” has taken on an immediacy without precedent in American television documentary. It is almost as if “America’s Most Wanted” had a love child with the “Who Shot JR?” cliffhanger. Last week’s revelation of new evidence connecting Durst to the 2000 murder of his friend and confidant Susan Berman, was an “Oh Shit!” moment that documentaries often fail to deliver, and transformed “The Jinx” from a series about deaths and a disappearance in the past, into one unfolding in the now. And today’s arrest of Durst has reinforced that sense of now. Jarecki and HBO must have known the attention that the Berman evidence in the penultimate episode would bring the series, but Durst’s arrest is the kind of attention grabbing coup that would make Kim Kardashian blush (maybe).
And that attention is deserved. Not just because it fits in nicely with the modern attention span that can only be accurately measured with a stopwatch and the seeming disposability of anything that happened yesterday. But because it is well made, intelligent filmmaking with an ability to fascinate and repulse, much like Durst himself. In equal measures, Jarecki’s documentary paints Durst as monster and a tragic figure. A victim of personal tragedies and the victimizer of others. When Durst recounts the details of his mother’s death, something nearing sympathy can be felt for a man that recalls the dismembering of the body of neighbor Morris Black so flippantly that it nauseates. The juxtaposition within Durst himself is ultimately what makes “The Jinx” so compelling. The series could have easily been the blandish recounting of crimes and evidence, or how the rich man got away with murder. Credit the filmmakers for going deeper and making, instead, an intense, deeply personal human drama that recognizes the man at the center of all it, is far more interesting than just the who, what, when, where, and how could ever be.
The finale of “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” airs at 8 on HBO