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Film / The Jinx

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"What the hell did I do?"

"I did not knowingly purposefully lie. I did not knowingly purposefully lie. I did not knowingly, purposefully, intentionally lie. I did make mistakes."
Robert Durst

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst is a 2015 documentary about New York billionaire Robert Durst, who was suspected in the 1982 disappearance of his wife Kathie, as well as the related murder of his friend Susie Berman and the death and dismemberment of Morris Black. Despite compelling evidence suggesting Durst played a role in all three crimes, he managed to get away with with all of them.

Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, coming off the film All Good Things (a dramatization of Durst and his notoriety) received a phone call from the real Durst, who wanted to commission a documentary about himself. Over twenty hours of footage was shot of interviews with Durst, eventually whittled down to six hour-long episodes.

Upon the premiere, the series received praise for its execution and for the damning evidence Jarecki uncovered against Durst, who had managed to avoid being jailed for years. Then, one day before the finale, Durst was arrested. He would ultimately be convicted of the Berman killing in 2021 and finally charged with Kathleen's murder shortly after, only to die on January 10, 2022, before he could officially be sentenced or tried for the respective crimes.

In 2019, it came to light that the series' most memorable sequence, a recording in which Durst appears to confess to the murders while talking to himself in a bathroom, was edited to make it sound more incriminating. Despite this, a sequel documentary called The Jinx: Part 2, covering the eight years between the original film and Durst's death, is scheduled to air on HBO in 2024.

Both the book and the film contain examples of:

  • Amateur Sleuth:
    • Kathie's friends, frustrated by the police's lack of effort in the case, start investigating the crime themselves. They're the ones who find her clothes and makeup in the trash from the cottage, indicating that Durst knew already that Kathie wasn't coming back.
    • Jarecki and the film crew become this at the end of episode 5 and throughout episode 6.
  • Asshole Victim: Susan Berman may have played a role in helping Durst cover up Kathleen's murder, then possibly tried to blackmail him decades later when she fell on hard times and was herself murdered as a result.
    • Deliberately invoked in the trial over Morris Black’s murder, in order to support the idea that he was killed in self-defense, particularly by bringing up instances where he’d yelled at total strangers over innocuous behavior.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Durst has brown eyes, but they're very dark and reflect little light due to his constant half-lidded expression. Unsettlingly, it looks a lot like this trope.
  • The Bluebeard: Durst in all likelihood murdered his long-missing wife Kathleen and is suspected in the disappearances of other young women in areas where he lived or worked.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Susie Berman's death.
  • Broken Pedestal: Susie's stepson Sareb befriended Durst after her murder, despite his suspected involvement, giving him the benefit of the doubt. He almost breaks down in tears when he finds damning evidence pointing to Durst in said murder.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Durst regards most of his crimes in this manner. It can be seriously unnerving to hear him describe murder and dismemberment as though it was the most normal thing in the world.
  • Cain and Abel: Robert and Douglas have a long, complicated relationship. It's best summed up when Robert said, describing both their childhood and what happened to the company as adults, "He stole my toys."
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The "Cadaver" note, specifically the misspelling of "Beverly" as "Beverley".
    • Also Durst's habit of talking to himself. The series ends with him seemingly confessing to the murders while his microphone is on.
  • Creepy Crossdresser: Durst in Galveston.
  • Creepy Monotone: Durst's interview with Jarecki.
  • Crime After Crime: How Durst’s actions are portrayed after murdering Kathie. First, he kills Susie Berman to keep her from revealing anything incriminating to the police, then goes on the run and lives under an alias, then murders his neighbor, then jumps bail after he’s arrested for that murder…
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Durst might not have been found after he jumped bail, had he not tried to shoplift a sandwich from a grocery store.
  • Disappeared Dad: Robert's father Seymour, even after his mother's suicide.
  • Domestic Abuse: Durst was allegedly abusive to Kathleen, who made at least one trip to the hospital covered in bruises.
  • The Dreaded: So feared is Robert by his own family (especially estranged brother Douglas) that they have all put out restraining orders against him.
  • Driven to Suicide: Durst's mother.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Durst is so charming that he makes people laugh while being questioned for murder, yet kills multiple people – including his wife and his best friend since college – in cold blood.
  • Foreshadowing: As close as a documentary can come. At the end of the fourth episode, the producers have to warn Durst to remember that his mic is hot.
  • Gallows Humor: "I did not kill my best friend. I did dismember him."
  • Genre Shift: The last episode stops following Durst's story and focuses on the filmmakers as they become certain of Durst's guilt.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted. Durst browbeat Kathleen into having at least one, later claiming it's because he suspected the child wasn't his.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Morris Black was described as such.
  • He Knows Too Much: One proffered motive for Susie Berman’s murder, as she was about to be interviewed by the police about Kathie’s death, and for Morris Black’s, as he knew “Dorothy Ciner” was Robert Durst.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Robert Durst had (allegedly) gotten away with three murders for over thirty years. (He was jailed for a few years over lesser crimes related to the Morris Black killing, but was otherwise a free man.) Yet he was investigated and arrested after all that time because of a documentary he himself commissioned.
  • Incriminating Indifference:
    • Kathleen had been missing for several days before Durst reported it to the police. Despite his actually reasonable excuse for not filing a report right away—between their multiple residences and her work as a medical student, they supposedly often went days without seeing or speaking to each other—cops' alarm bells still went off at his matter-of-fact demeanor. Later, when two of her friends went to their apartment, they noticed that he'd thrown out her things, behavior that strongly implied that he knew she wouldn't be coming back.
    • He also didn't attend Susan Berman's funeral, despite them having been friends for decades.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: A subtle one, but when Jarecki asks what divers would be looking for in the lake behind the house where he and his wife used to live (and where she probably died), Durst blithely replies "Body parts." Most people would simply say, "A body."
  • Is This Thing Still On?: Durst's confession.
  • Karma Houdini: Robert Durst is presented as having gotten away with three murders, though the subsequent trial after the series came out ultimately changed that. He cannot be re-tried for the murder of Morris Black, however.
    • Zig-zagged in Real Life, ultimately. Durst was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for Susan Berman's murder, partly based on the evidence discovered by Sareb. But then Durst died shortly after the start of his sentence in January 2022, before he could face charges related to Kathleen's disappearance.
  • Lack of Empathy: Durst seems incapable of truly feeling anything for anyone. A police officer describes him as killing without remorse when he feels backed into a corner.
  • Licked by the Dog: Susan’s stepson Sareb became friends with Durst after his mother’s murder, and Durst paid for his college education.
  • Missing Mom: Durst's mother, who committed suicide when he was seven years old.
  • No-Respect Guy: How Durst sees himself, being passed over for control of the family fortune in favor of his younger brother Douglas.
  • No Social Skills: Durst gives off this vibe, with his admitted dislike of Kathie's family and talking to himself.
  • Obliviously Evil: Durst genuinely doesn't seem to grasp why what he's done is wrong.
  • Oh, Crap!: The reaction of Jarecki's film crew and Susan's stepson upon discovering the second "Beverley Hills" letter.
  • Once More, with Clarity: In the third episode, the "Cadaver" letter is brought up in the course of the story of Susan Berman's murder, and Durst, when asked about it, suggests that the address is in block letters to hide the writer's signature, points out that they spelled "Beverly" wrong, and mentions that it would be very stupid of the murderer to write a letter to the police that "only the killer could have written." The letter is otherwise glossed over, and the story continues with an introduction of Susie's stepson, Sareb. The exact same sequence is played in the sixth episode, after the second letter has already been revealed to the audience.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Durst's face seems locked into a permanent look of misery.
  • Please Wake Up: Durst describes how he, at seven years old, didn't understand why his mother was being lowered into the ground in a box at the funeral and tried to stop it.
  • Police Are Useless: The NYPD was dismissive of the suspicions of Kathleen's friends that Durst had killed her, and took eighteen years to search the cottage where in all likelihood her murder took place.
  • Present-Day Past: The second episode shows a reenactment of Robert's mother's suicide, which happened in 1950. Prominently shown in the scene is a Cadillac ambulance from 1973.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The fourth episode end credits play Glen Campbell's "Galveston" after he is acquitted in the Black killing.
  • Spoiler Title: The final episode gets its title directly from Durst's confession at the end: "What the Hell Did I Do?"
  • The Stoic: Never shows any emotion and very rarely smiles. Old family photos shown in the documentary are somewhat jarring due to Durst always appearing miserable and discontent among a room full of happy people.
  • Title Drop: Durst says how he didn't want children with his wife because he would be "like a jinx" to them.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Jarecki and his crew eventually realize that Durst is this.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Susan Berman is credited with helping deflect suspicion away from Durst after Kathie’s murder by acting as his spokesperson, including feeding false information to the newspapers to muddy the waters.
  • Wham Episode:
    • Chapter 5: Susan Berman's stepson discovers an old letter from Durst in storage which matches the "Cadaver" letter sent to police by her killer, and Jarecki and his film crew realize Durst is guilty.
    • Chapter 6: The Wham Line that made the series famous occurs here.
  • Wham Line: The series presents Durst as having accidentally incriminated himself while talking to himself in the bathroom while wearing a hot mic. The series represents his statements as, "There it is. You're caught... What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course." However, five years later, it came to light in Durst's trial that the documentarians had edited and re-ordered his statements to sound more incriminating. Unedited, his rambling concluded: "I don't know what you expected to get. I don't know what's in the house. Oh, I want this. Killed them all, of course. [Unintelligible] I want to do something new. There's nothing new about that. [Inaudible - possibly 'disaster.'] He was right. I was wrong. The burping. I'm having difficulty with the question. What the hell did I do?"
  • Wham Shot: In episode 5, the documentary crew and Susan Berman's stepson find an envelope sent by Robert Durst to Berman, and the camera zooms in to reveal identical handwriting and the same "Beverley Hills" typo found on the anonymous letter sent by her killer.