HBO’s The Jinx: The
Life and Deaths of Robert Durst is probably the most terrifying,
jaw-dropping television I have ever experienced. As when I watch most of HBO’s content, I felt like I was watching a movie, except this time was
unsettlingly different—it is a documentary
mini-series, meaning that all of it is 100-percent, totally real.
I went into the six-part series with no prior knowledge of The Jinx other
than that it was about Robert Durst, a millionaire heir of the family-run real
estate company The Durst Organization in New York City, who denies any
involvement with the mysterious disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen, in
The suspenseful, spine-chilling amount of information was enough for me
to embark on this unsolved murder mystery that could easily be the
plot for a classic horror film. Director Andrew Jarecki shocked me right away with the opening
scene, providing an invitation into the dark, strange world of investigative work.
Eerie music plays as a cop car fades
into the darkness of the night, pulling up to the edge of a waterfront, while the
voice of Detective Gary Jones recounts a disturbing dispatch call
he received at his house when off-duty in Galveston, Tex., in September of 2001:
“They told me that a young kid had found what they thought was a torso. No head. No arms.
No legs. Just, just the torso.”
Instantly, the mini-series reminded me of Showtime’s Dexter and how the main character would slice up his victims, pack them
up into trash bags and toss them into the middle of the ocean. It is hard to
stomach that a person in real life would actually commit such a graphic act of
violence, but here, on the screen right in front of me, is proof that it had
been done years before Dexter
“I had no idea what I was fixin’
to step into. If I had of, I’m, I’m not so sure I would have stepped in so
willingly,” Detective Cody Cazalas says to the camera before the shot cuts to the
Jarecki brilliantly placed this
clip from an interview with Detective Cazalas at the end of the first scene
because his words rang true to the mixture of curiosity and discomfort I felt
from the very beginning to the very end of The
Jinx. He strategically used Detective Cazalas’ words as a subtle warning to proceed with caution—that what was about to unfold would be hard to watch and would take unexpected turns.
The series is built around Durst’s
unnerving cooperation with Jarecki on the documentary. Durst agreed to share his personal account of the bizarre
life he’s lived, discussing in detail the three murders he was accused of: his
first wife, Kathie, his close friend Susan Berman and his
neighbor Morris Black (whose dismembered body was found in the Galveston Bay).
Through real archival footage and artistic recreation of actual events, Jarecki
was able to bring this story to life in the present for a new
investigation. Friends and family members of the victims, lawyers, reporters and policemen were all featured, describing their (mostly negative) experiences
While the interviews with
the various people that came into contact with Durst over the years were
very telling, The Jinx could have focused more on Durst’s
current wife, Debrah Lee Charatan. Charatan is only ever seen in clips from an
old police interview following Durst’s 2001 arrest in Pennsylvania, as well as
heard in phone conversations with Durst when he was in jail. She comes off as
very condescending and defensive of Durst.
“A lot of people believe
Debbie knows Bob’s secrets, whatever they may be,” New York Times reporter Charles Dagli says in an interview.
It was hard not to
despise Durst because of how calm and collected he was when talking about the tragic
fates these three people faced. The fact that he reached out to Jarecki to be
filmed for an interview and agreed to be part of a project telling his own
inconsistent story is what made this such a unique, unbelievable viewing event.
Durst’s poor judgement became especially evident in his arrest for the
murder of Susan Berman on March 14, coincidentally (or not so
coincidentally) the day before the
“What the hell did I do? Killed
them all, of course,” Durst, unaware that his microphone is still on, accidentally
reveals in the terrifying, closing moments as the camera fades to black.
If you are reading this without having seen The Jinx, I recommend you stop and go watch right now.
Will Cafritz PZ ’16 is majoring in media studies with a concentration in film/video. He is from Washington, D.C., and has dual citizenship in Switzerland.