I wasn’t planning on writing anything tonight, being it’s 11:34pm on a Thursday, a school night. My initial plan was typical—watch a TV show, check Facebook, and go to bed. Things got a little fuzzier, however, 10 minutes ago, as I closed my computer and tried to process what I had just seen, in the impending darkness of my room, lit only by the fading Apple in my lap.
You know when something hits you in such a raw and never-before-felt way that your chest becomes so tense you’re absolutely sure it might turn to stone? Then as you try to breath and return back to the present moment you’re even more certain you might vanish into a plume of smoke?
That’s how I felt, and still feel, since finishing Andrew Jarecki’s docuseries, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, 5 minutes ago.
If you too have watched this, I have no doubt you know exactly what I’m talking about. I watched the credits roll by with my hands so firmly clenched, that my nails created craters in my palms. I’ve since put on an episode of “Friends” in the background to try and lighten the mood, but this has proven quite impossible.
A jinx is literally someone who brings about bad luck, someone who is cursed with misfortune and haunted by situational irony. The Jinx, on the contrary, is Robert Durst.
Robert Durst is a man linked to to the disappearance of his first wife, the execution of his best friend and confidant, and the murder and dismemberment of his neighbor, which no matter how many times I heard said throughout the series, still hasn’t desensitized me from the terrible image of chopped up and bagged body parts.
The story of his life unfolds with a series of unfortunate events, the most significant being the three mentioned above, for which he was previously never found guilty. Now, I’m not writing about this for the purpose of cinematic criticism—I think this project was brilliant. What I do want to talk about, for the sole selfish purpose of trying to digest and understand it myself, is Episode 6, appropriately titled: “What The Hell Did I Do?”
What the hell did Robert Durst do? The man speaks on behalf of his dead loved ones with the genuine innocence of a child, and the sincerest disillusionment as to his involvement with their deaths. Because of this, it seemed, the director, Andrew Jarecki, continued to give one of the most hated and criticized men in America the benefit of the doubt, of which he was previously never granted by the American public. Maybe he didn’t really do it? I thought. This seemed somewhat reasonable, all well and fair, until the filmmakers reached a milestone in their investigation.
The murder of Durst’s longtime friend, Susan Berman, was unique from the others, in that police were lead to the crime scene by a hand written letter, presumably from the murder, that gave her address with hopes that the police would find her body before it rotted (a considerate murder, nonetheless). What was previously confusing about the letter was the misspelling of Beverley in Beverly Hills, and the use of block letters, likely a disguise for the handwriting of the killer. After a significant amount of time had passed since beginning the series, Jarecki, through keeping close contact with Berman’s stepson and family, was made aware of a newly discovered letter written to Susan Berman by Robert Durst, before her death, found in a box of her belongings.
The letter was addressed to Susan Berman, at 1527 Benedict Canyon, in Beverley Hills CA, 90210.
“That bastard,” says District Attorney, Jeanine Pirro, upon seeing the two letters side by side.
When Jarecki reveals to the audience that he plans on using this evidence in his final interview with ‘Bob,’ I literally felt my chest cavity tighten. I was there, with Jarecki, holding onto a piece of paper that was about to change the entire direction of the project and turn the inconclusive piece into an accusatory masterpiece. In the interview, Durst agrees the letters look oddly similar, acknowledges the misspellings, and finally, lets out a gut-wrenching, gas-filled burp when Jarecki asks him several times if he had written the letter leading to Berman’s body.
“Did you kill your friend Susan Berman.”
Now, the burp becomes a key motif in the coming moments—a disturbing externalization of the building guilt resting in Durst’s intestine, perhaps evidence that the stomach is in fact the location of our subconscious souls, or at least Durst’s.
Durst proceeds to thank the interviewer for his time, recognizing that they have gone over a few minutes, and goes to the bathroom, where his mic remains on.
*Durst was confronted by his lawyers in an earlier episode about his constantly-running mic, and signed a release for Jarecki to use anything captured on it.*
Here is the transcribed conversation between Durst and, well, himself, in the bathroom after the interview, distorted and interrupted by what appears to be heated bowel movements and gastrointestinal outbursts (it’s near impossible for me to re-watch this scene):
There it is
You’re right, of course
But, you can’t imagine
I don’t know what’s in the house
Oh, I want this
What a disaster
He was right
I was wrong
I’m having difficulty with the question
What the hell did I do?
Killed them all, of course.
It’s hard for me to type out this scene without holding my breath—unable to grapple the fact that this project, this brilliant blend of investigative journalism and documentary filmmaking, this rendezvous of historically driven storytelling and the luck of the perfect piece of evidence—lead to the conclusion of years and years of pending mystery. Every single person affected by the murders of Susan Berman, Kathleen Durst, and Morris Black, was left with a sort of eerie and disturbing closure, a much needed ease, with a single burp that said just as much as the confession that followed.
In many cases the truth is that which sets you free, but that final scene has left me feeling trapped inside a battle of my own morality. Andrew Jarecki set out to paint the portrait of the exemplary jinx, but leaves us with an incriminating story about a serial killer who lived his life as a free man.
The Jinx is not only a fundamental example of cinematic brilliance, but an important historical milestone in the discussion of artistic responsibility. When the camera is rolling, history can be made, revised, and evidently, changed. I’m tempted to ask,”what the hell did you do,” Andrew Jarecki, but give all of us with the artistic access to other people’s stories a giant fucking legal, emotional and moral burden to think about moving forward. When does journalistic confidentiality stop and moral obligation begin? When does a piece of entertainment become evidential and archival footage that could ruin one person’s life but give justice to three? When does a change in gastrointestinal activity turn an innocent man into a murder? When does the filmmaker stop playing the role of the impartial artist and take on the role of the prosecutor, the judge, of God?
Jarecki has, perhaps unintentionally, blended these roles into an entirely new one—that of the documentary filmmaker, one who not only seeks to tell, but to expose, to accuse, and to change. Unbias research can, and often times should, lead to a one-sided conclusion. Journalists, filmmakers, and investigative reporters alike are allowed to have an opinion, and must assert their voice to thread together a narrative that has the potential to change that which they believe is wrong, even at the expense of their trusting subject.
The Jinx has now made documentarists credible intakers of fact, and justified outputters of influence.
The burp heard round the world.