For any football fan of the last decade, Aaron Hernandez felt like a sure-fire bet to become an icon in the league. His gritty resolve on the field and tough demeanor made him stand out against a league full of men. He always seemed joyous, both on and off the field. When the events of 2012 and 2013 came to light, he became a punchline. The violence and anger of his double life completely changed the perception of the man and the athlete. Documentarian Geno McDermott crafts “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez” utilizing phone calls, interviews, and archival footage. While the series provides a more complete view of Hernandez, we still have little reason to understand the brutal killings.
The series begins with the early footage of Hernandez’s first arrest. In 2013, a 27-year-old semi-pro football player was found dead in a field. Odin Lloyd was a stranger to North Attleborough, Massachusetts. However, his girlfriend’s future brother-in-law was Hernandez. Thanks to security system footage, police traced Hernandez’s entire night. He became the primary suspect in the murder. Over the next few years, Hernandez was found guilty for the murder and charged with two more.
“Killer Inside” features extraordinary access to the inner-life of Hernandez. McDermott expertly lays out Hernandez’s relationships with many of the key figures in the series. He then uses a series of phone calls between Hernandez and his family to give us a front-row seat to his state of mind. We do not have to rely on others’ perceptions of Hernandez (although the documentary features plenty of that). Instead, Hernandez’s prejudices and anger come through.
There are two big revelations that the documentary uses to create a sympathetic portrait of Hernandez. The first, and most prevalent throughout the series, is Hernandez’s sexuality. Former partners come out to verify that he was bi-sexual, if not a closeted gay man. However, the culture of football does not welcome gay men. Combined with his father’s homophobia, the documentary posits that Hernandez’s self-hate pushed him to embrace his aggressive nature.
The second revelation comes after Hernandez’s suicide in 2017. With the analysis of his brain, Hernandez showed extremely advanced Chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. The degenerative brain disorder came to prominence as NFL veterans began to commit suicide. CTE makes its victims more likely to ignore social cues and act aggressively. Hernandez’s CTE was the most advanced ever found in a 27-year-old brain, even though he had not played football in four years.
The two revelations attempt to create empathy for Hernandez. Yet at the same time, the documentary tries to shed light on the victims of his actions. The Lloyd family receives substantial time in the spotlight during the trial. Hernandez’s interactions with his family show fractures and emotional wounds that go back decades. Hernandez’s actions bring these issues to the surface, condemning cousins to jail for months and leave his child fatherless.
Individually, these factors allow the documentary to make their points. Yet together, they are a frustrating blend of ideas. Repressing one’s sexuality can cause some to lash out, and CTE has enhanced the violent tendencies of some. Yet in both cases, there are thousands of individuals who do not become murderous sociopaths.
“Killer Inside” even offers up an example of someone who likely suffers on both fronts. Offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan repressed his sexuality throughout his time in the NFL, even though he received his concussions. Based on pure numbers, there are likely hundreds more NFL players that have never come out, and few have ever engaged in acts as grisly as Hernandez. Ultimately, these ideas are floated, but there are no hard facts in their relation to the case. They become messy tangents that help us understand Hernandez, but do little to bring closure to the Lloyd family.
Ultimately, the most interesting elements of “Killer Inside” come from the dual life Hernandez led. On one hand, he hides his bisexuality from the world and his wife. On another, he hides his gang and drug-related issues from his professional football career. In each instance, Hernandez lies to those around him and grows increasingly isolated. These moments shine through, clicking into place during the final episode. The dualism of Hernandez makes him an interesting subject, and with more subject participation, it might have created some extremely interesting results.
For many interested in Aaron Hernandez, “Killer Inside” fulfills its duties of exploring his life. It creates potential theories and ideas that point to outside factors for why Hernandez may have committed murder. While some may find it entertaining, “Killer Inside” does not provide closure or finality. Instead, it feels like an unfinished puzzle that will continue to fascinate audiences for years. While “Killer Inside” offers the most comprehensive look at his life so far, expect a stronger and more complete narrative to emerge in the years to come.
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Stream “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez” on Netflix.