“The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst”: I think this is what a documentary looks like if it has sex with an art-house film. Put down your book and check out this Emmy-award winning miniseries if you’re in the mood for something unsettling, engaging, and likely to be a topic of intense conversation if you watch it with a friend or family member. I was talking and thinking about it for days – and still it lingers. Even the darkest of truths wants to slither out, just as the One Ring to Rule Them All wants to be found.
Do you already know the story of Bob Durst? I did not. Bob is the oldest son of Manhattan real estate mogul Seymour Durst, though his younger brother Douglas was groomed for leadership and inherited his father’s mantle. In 1982, Bob’s wife Kathie disappeared on her way from their cabin in upstate to New York back to their apartment in the city; she was due back at med school the next day. Because their relationship had been violent and volatile, Bob was a suspect. He was never indicted, and the investigation fizzled out.
Shortly after the investigation into Kathie’s death was reopened in 2000, one of Bob’s oldest friends – Susan Berman – was shot dead, execution-style, at her home in California. A letter was dropped in a local post office box, addressed to the sherriff’s office, noting that a “cadaver” (medical school term) would be found at her address. Bob’s precise whereabouts during this time could not be ascertained, though his flight and phone records put him in California. He claimed that he was in Northern rather than Southern California, where Susan was killed. He was never indicted for Susan’s murder, and investigators into Kathie’s death obviously didn’t have a chance to interview the now-dead Susan.
Some time later, still fearing investigation into Kathie’s death, Bob disappeared. He disguised himself as a mute woman – yes, you read that correctly – and rented an apartment in Galveston, Texas. That year, in 2001, his neighbor in the apartment complex was found dead; specifically, he was found dismembered and in a variety of black plastic bags in the local bay. Brought to trial, Bob claimed self-defense. He said that he dismembered the body because he feared that no one would believe that he acted in self-defense. He was acquitted.
Fast forward to 2010. Director Andrew Jarecki made a movie starring Kirsten Dunst and Ryan Gosling called “All Good Things” about the disappearance and presumed murder of Kathie Durst. It never received too much attention as movies go – but it did provoke Bob Durst to contact Jarecki. Bob wanted to tell him his side of the story, supposedly to exonerate himself. “The Jinx” is the result. It won 2 Emmy awards in 2015, including Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction series.
Why watch this? There is of course the sensational nature of the material: murders, a wealthy heir, a series of mysteries. In the hands of Andrew Jarecki, it becomes more than a salacious tale. It explores the mystery of a soul unraveling, and the tendency of the truth to seek its way out. (Shades of the Bard…)
* * *
Immediately prior to the showing of the 6th and final installment of the miniseries, Bob Durst was arrested in New Orleans on gun charges. The FBI arrested him there – on those charges – in order to prevent him from leaving the country under an alias. This past Wednesday, as reported in The New York Times, he entered into a plea agreement that requires him to serve 85 months in federal prison on the gun charges. He will also likely face murder charges in California.
* * *
Check out this amazing interview with Andrew Jarecki in “Entertainment Weekly.” “I did a lot of soul searching,” says Jarecki, “and I concluded that the right thing to do was to let the audience understand as much about Bob as possible, including the things that we would be sympathetic to, including letting him be charming in his own way, not cutting that stuff out of the edit. We let him be the fullest person that he could be – and then ultimately allowed him to hang himself.”