Turning on “The Life and Trials of Oscar Pistorius,” you may expect an answer as to whether the South African track star meant to kill his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on that night in February 2013. But you won’t find a clear-cut conclusion.
Even the documentary’s director is still torn.
“It depends what mood I’m in when I wake up,” Daniel Gordon tells The Post about his own beliefs on Pistorius’ guilt. “It depends on what part of the film I watch. The truth is, we will never know. But we can have a hunch and come with a bias before we watch the film and things will be explained.”
The riveting four-part “30 for 30” documentary, which premieres on ESPN+ Sunday, artfully paints a complex portrait of the boundary-breaking Olympic sprinter whose downfall was as great as his soaring accomplishments both on and off the track.
Gordon, whose other “30 for 30” credits include “Hillsborough” and “George Best: All By Himself,” deconstructs and dissects the complicated and emotionally charged story and murder trial by delving into all sides of Pistorius.
The double-amputee, dubbed the Blade Runner because of his carbon-fiber prosthetic legs, rose to international prominence when he competed in the London Olympics in 2012. Six months later, Pistorius was only 26 when he shot and killed his girlfriend who was cowering in the bathroom in his Pretoria, South Africa, home. He claimed that he tragically mistook her for a burglar, while prosecutors argued that it was premeditated. After a sensational trial and numerous appeals, he was found guilty of murder and is currently serving a 15 year sentence in prison.
“His life is incredible. Even if you stopped it at the 2012 Olympics, it’s still an incredible story,” said Gordon.
Born with a congenital defect where he was missing the outside of both feet and fibulae, Pistorius’ parents consulted numerous doctors before deciding to have his legs amputated below the knees when he was only 11 months old. They instilled in him that he was not disabled, rather differently abled, and he was not treated any differently because of his physicality. But there was instability at home. His parents divorced when he was young, and his mother passed away when Pistorius was only 15.
At an all-boys school in Pretoria, Pistorius found his calling after injuring himself playing rugby. As part of his rehabilitation, he was prescribed track work and blew everyone away with his raw running talent, quickly rising to shake up the international Paralympic community. While still at the school, he won gold at the 2004 Athens Paralympics in the 200 meter.
He was an inspiration off the track, too. He became a lifeline for Ebba Gudmundsdottir, whose son was born with same defect. They forged a warm relationship after the Icelandic family reached out to Pistorius to thank him for being an inspiration when the boy was about 7 months old. The athlete struck up a friendship with the family, visiting them and sharing his medical information and insight as the boy underwent the same amputation procedure.
The documentary features tender footage of Pistorius with the youngster, to whom he even gifted one of his gold medals.
In the film, Pistorius is the crusading Paralympian who fights the International Association of Athletics Federations to allow him to compete with able-bodied athletes. He was a national hero in the London Olympics and Paralympics, one who restored pride in a battered South Africa still dealing with the tainted legacy of apartheid.
Conversely, he felt vulnerable because of his physical disability. He had a volatile temper and a relentless drive for greatness that sometimes boiled over into his personal life. In the wake of the shooting, he’s painted by tabloids as an abusive boyfriend and a steroid user. The drug use claims are dismantled in the film.
Among the evidence of his demons are the charged WhatsApp text messages between Steenkamp and Pistorius, where the model wrote, “scared of you sometimes and how u snap at me and of how you will react to me.”
“The people who are close to him recognize his faults and told it how it was,” said Gordon. “But one said, ‘Terrible temper, but that doesn’t make him a murderer.’ ”
The film features interviews with two of Pistorius’ ex-girlfriends and close family members, including his brother and uncle, but not Pistorius himself.
“Efforts were made, but I could never get to the bottom of it fully,” said Gordon of trying to get Pistorius on camera. “I think part of his parole is that he couldn’t officially talk to media while he was inside. I’m not sure the film would have been stronger with him in it.”
The athlete’s spectacular rise and fall played out amid the unrest and violence that continues to plague South Africa, where home invasions are commonplace — and often brutal.
For two summers, including in the lead-up to the London Olympics, Pistorius trained in a Gemona, Italy, where he was considered a native son. And like Iceland, it was also a safe haven, far away from the violence back home.
“What was really extreme in the place of Italy: Everyone leaves their doors open. They would cycle to the track, leave their bikes around town,” explained Gordon. “And yet, he goes back to South Africa, [where] there are 20,000 homicides per year and everywhere you go there’s security up the eyeballs and electric fencing and barbed wire.”
Pistorius’ history of paranoia, stemming from his country’s issues to his own mother’s fear of home invasions as a child, is explored. He was even startled by fireworks at London’s opening ceremonies, said Gordon.
“There are plenty of stories of him being paranoid. They are backed up and reported on contemporaneously,” said Gordon. “He woke up in the middle of the night and thought there was burglar and he came down with a gun and it turned out to be the washing machine or a friend who was staying [with him].”
Ultimately, it’s unclear if Pistorius, now 33, will be able to reinvent himself once again when he leaves prison. The earliest he is eligible for parole is 2023.
At Pistorius’ request, his high school headmaster, Bill Schroder, visited him at the prison in Pretoria and relayed the only real update on the disgraced athlete. The once-elite sprinter smelled of cigarettes, had grown a beard and said he didn’t think he’d ever run again. And because there are no rehabilitative initiatives in South African prisons, “he isn’t allowed to study,” said Gordon. “He is only allowed 46 visits a year.”
Said Schroder: “He kept saying to me, ‘I just wanted forgiveness.’ He is desperate to get this sort of feeling of forgiveness, and he’ll never get it, I don’t think. I said, ‘The only forgiveness you will ever get is to forgive yourself.’ ”