Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez is a compelling documentary that investigates the fall of Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez was once a star-studded NFL athlete, who had what seemed to be the perfect underdog story. He grew up in an immigrant family who had achieved the facade of the American Dream, yet Hernandez’s American Dream would soon become a nightmare as hairline fractures in his story became gaping cracks that would lead to his tragic demise.
Hernandez’s story would be an easy one to skew or tell biasedly, yet executive producers Dan Wetzel, Kevin Armstrong, Dan DiStefano and Angus Wall meticulously offered insight into every angle of this complex story. Interviews from former NFL players, to Hernandez’s friends, to families of the slain, Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez is the perfect balance of various takes on the same twisted narrative.
We are on the brink of a new era of documentaries. Documentaries that have the opportunity to use plenty of primary sources because of the huge rise in the preservation of stories, of people, of moments, via technology in the last couple of decades. Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez exemplifies the direction documentaries are going in, they are going to become real with the influx of photos and videos of events in the 21st-century. No longer will we be watching documentaries that are primarily reenactments, we will be watching real footage, viewing real photographs and real people’s choices unfold in front of us.
The production value of Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez is what makes it chillingly real. Hernandez was born in 1989, allowing for most of his life to be captured on film or in photos. The inclusion of childhood photos of Hernandez elevated this documentary from just a story, to a personal, real-life tragedy and failure of both Hernandez as an individual and the society that built him.
The photos were presented in a fashion that made the viewer believe that Hernandez’s father and mother could be their own parents, the football clips of young Hernandez could’ve been taken at anyone’s hometown Friday night football game, the local news stations that reported on Hernandez’s story could be the hum of anyone’s TV on any weeknight. The producers marry the documentary to the audience’s life in such a way that the hurt, anger and tragedy of Hernandez’s story became collective feelings shared between the murderer and the audience. This collective mourning, whether for Hernandez himself or the victims of his crimes, is the pinnacle of calamity and disappointment in what should’ve been a fairy tale story.
Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez is not just a documentary about Aaron Hernandez’s fall from grace, but the American Dream crumbling.
The series starts with a preface to Hernandez’s life, beginning with his childhood in Bristol, Connecticut. The audience is introduced into Hernandez’s life, beginning with small glimpses of his seemingly happy childhood. Slowly the documentary allows the shadows from the perimeter of the flashbacks to leak into the full-frame memories as more twisted details are revealed about Hernandez’s past. There is a gradual feeling that something disastrous is going to happen. The eerie music, the clips of Hernandez’s childhood blended together with clips of his court hearings and most chilling, the recordings of his young, innocent daughter paralleled with clips of her murderous father, left me on edge for all three episodes. These cinematic allusions make Hernandez’s story come to life like puzzle pieces finally clicking together.
A key component of why this documentary is so successful is its utilization of paradox. There is a contrast drawn between the American Dream and murder, the NFL and homosexuality, innocence and guilt. The twisted interconnection between all these paradoxes is truly captivating to watch unfold.
Possibly the most unexpected paradoxes explored was the NFL’s history with homophobia. The speculations made about Hernandez’s sexuality were beyond intriguing. The developments in this narrative were heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. Slowly, the audience is left wondering whether they should pity or hate Hernandez. Was this a closeted homosexual rooting for release from his eternal prison? Or was he a straight man that loved an all-American sport that took a few too many turns down the wrong paths? Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez brings questions like this into the spotlight creating a polarization of pity and hate in Hernandez’s story.
Pity and hate clash continuously throughout this documentary. Do you pity him because of his harsh, abusive upbringing and crippling Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)? Or do you hate him because he is a murderer? Was this a man who was a victim of the pressure professional athletes are under and a victim of PTSD? Or was he a sociopath who murdered three innocent men?
Or is he both?
Differentiating the causes and consequences of Hernandez’s life are nearly impossible throughout this documentary. Hernandez had it all: the fiancée, the baby, the mansion, the cars and was at the top of the most powerful cult in the USA, the NFL. Even after looking into his childhood, head trauma and sketchy networks, it still doesn’t add up. Despite the evidence and various arguments offered about whether the audience should hate or pity Hernandez, one question permeates the series time and time again; where did Hernandez go wrong?
As a viewer, I was left begging for more answers and clarity into Hernandez’s life. This documentary forces audience members to think, which is an extremely commendable feat today. Viewers were left questioning their own values, their personal experiences and their perception of the American Dream.
This is why documentaries of this calibre are important, they collide personal lives with NFL stars. They force average viewers to put themselves in a millionaire athlete’s life and somehow stir feelings of empathy and hatred simultaneously.
I do not think there is an answer.
What I do know is that documentaries like this are integral to our society’s understanding of our demand for violence and our obsession with stereotypes. Viewers initially clicked on this documentary because it was advertised as violent, as inhumane. Yet viewers kept watching not because of this physical violence, but because of the psychological warfare it imposed on its onlooker.
Hernandez was meant to fit our collective idea of the American Dream, of an underdog and of a hypermasculine man. Yet Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez forces us to confront the fact that these stereotypes are allusions. There is no such thing as the American Dream unless you are white and wealthy. There is no such thing as justice in an institutionalized system. There is nothing romantic about the classic underdog story. The story of Hernandez is unsettling, not because of the blood, gore and mystery, but because he embodies the paradoxes we, as a society, despise facing.