What the shit?! Did you all see the finale of The Jinx?! OMFG! Did you SEE it?!
My colleague Beth Reynolds is currently preparing her reaction to the second half of the HBO series. Not an enviable task, to say the least, particularly given that I can’t say five words about the show without defaulting into a string of senseless explicit proclamations. So, while she discusses the show in a vacuum, I’m going to rank where the Durst Derp moments rank against some of the most jaw-dropping moments in documentary history.
7. Jesus Camp
For a very short stretch, Jesus Camp isn’t an indictment of any single entity, but a question regarding whether the methods used to “teach” these attending children are any different than those used by other educational bodies and families. Aren’t all parents, to a degree, indoctrinating? Are we as an audience only passing judgment because the pentecostal politics fall so far out on the fringe? But then it shifts. When the children–most too young to understand the science or psychology involved in abortion–arrive at a D.C. pro-life demonstration with plastic fetuses taped to their palms and protest slogans duct taped over their mouths, we understand that what we’re witnessing is straight forward brainwashing, in the interest of growing what is already one of the most powerful voting demographics in America.
6. The Act of Killing
Joshua Oppenheimer freely interferes with his subject to find the best form for his story, but his story is one that exists above a plane where narrative twists are useful. Yet, there is still an unexpected moment that will stun viewers, a phenomena that manifests on two separate occasions. The Act of Killing is a study of evil unlike anything ever before put to film, and twice genocidal death squad leader Anwar Congo interrupts his own prideful, self-righteous testimony with a suggestion that the human mind has its own policing methods, that somewhere at the bottom of even the worst of us, goodness and consciousness have their say.
5. Countdown to Zero
Countdown to Zero is one of the scariest movies I have ever seen. This film presents enough statistics, testimonials, and believable hypothetical scenarios to convince viewers that nuclear annihilation is inevitable. For two weeks after watching, I peed my pants and froze in fear every time I heard a car alarm. But, the most telling and incidentally laughable evidence presented is the anecdote of the time that America failed to properly communicate an aurora borealis rocket study in the 1990s, which resulted in then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin almost hitting the proverbial button. It’s a reality so terrifying that it’s almost comedic.
4. The Imposter
The title all but confesses the film’s intent to trick and mislead, but it also places a certain expectation of storyline. For viewers seeking this film solely to appease a need for mystery, it’s almost a little disappointing when the assumed titular imposter confesses his scam in the opening act. But it’s hard to believe such a mystery would ever hold up, given that the scam artist is way too old to be mistaken for the missing child whose identity he attempts to hijack. And it’s this disbelief that sets the movie into the realm of the unbelievable.
3. Child of Rage: A Story of Abuse
When blonde haired, blue eyed Beth Thomas sat in front of HBO’s American Undercover cameras in 1990, the seemingly adorable seven-year-old girl looked as though she might have been selling Play-Doh in a commercial. That’s an expectation quickly destroyed. Beth proceeds to share explicit detail of physical and sexual abuse, with herself as both the recipient and the abuser, in a chilling, matter-of-fact, unaffected tone. To call it discomforting is an understatement, that measurement of malice and sociopathy in a child this young. The second half of the film follow’s Beth’s treatment and it’s a comfort to know that she is now a successful nurse and recovered adult, but her interview, which you can see in its entirety here, is still a difficult if necessary thing to witness.
2. The Jinx
Take your pick of moments. Episode four’s cliffhanger felt like a bomb when it aired and then Episode 5 happened, leaving me repeating “holy shit” to myself, thirty times in a row. And then, just this last Sunday, the entire serialized documentary ended with a conclusion so concretely satisfying from a viewer perspective that it’s almost hard to believe. Andrew Jarecki’s discovery of new evidence was so impactful, in fact, that Durst was arrested on the same day the final episode aired. Honestly, you can not script a more perfect evolution of story than was captured here. What started as a character study of a seemingly bad man and undeniably compulsive and narcissistic liar ended up an independent investigation. Because of this film, Durst is finally set to face the case that lawmakers could never construct on their own.
1. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
To call it “jaw-dropping” is to describe only the initial physical response. The jaw drops, sure, but so does the stomach, the heart, the tears. “Jaw-dropping” is a fitting descriptor, but it doesn’t account for the need to call your loved ones after and sob your appreciation for them, nor does it detail the subsequent sleeplessness, the need to lay in the fetal position and whimper. I don’t feel as though I’m being unfair when I label this unforeseen development as a “sucker punch.” And it is a punch that lands with existentially disruptive precision.