My Friend Dahmer
My Friend Dahmer 2017
I couldn’t say for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jeffrey Dahmer was the first serial killer that I became aware of when it happened. I don’t really remember very much about his life, his trial, or anything after he went to jail. Pretty much the only thing I remembered was the basics of his crimes including the cannibalism and the fact that it was known that he had tortured animals when he was younger. Going into this movie I wasn’t quite sure what to expect outside of the fact that it was told from the perspective of someone who knew Dahmer in high school and had previously turned it into a graphic novel. While the movie does show some sympathy towards Dahmer and the struggles he had in his life, it also shows just as much of his disturbed nature and early signs of the road he would eventually go down. Not only that, but it paints it all in such a generally mundane way that somehow makes the story feel even more unnatural.
My Friend Dahmer is actually a bit of a misnomer. As presented in the film, Jeffrey Dahmer didn’t really have any friends. He initially seems to have a single friend except that his friend was even lower on the social ladder than Dahmer himself and so Dahmer distanced himself as his friend was being bullied. Not too long after, he joins a group of class clowns including an aspiring comic book artist but they really just keep him around after he starts drawing attention to himself by spazzing out and imitating someone with palsy. They think it’s a bit of funny shtick that disrupts the normality around them and even some of the members of the group realize that they are using him for comic relief rather than as an actual friend. This culminates in his “final performance” when they give him roughly $40 to create a scene at the local mall.
What the film really does well and does subtly is show the audience how Dahmer was able to eventually gain the trust of his future victims. Even though he spends most of the film in an awkward, hunched over pose with an uncomfortable look on his face, he’s able to turn on the charm when it suits him. This is best seen during a class trip to Washington DC when he convinces a White House aide that he is working for the school newspaper and wants to interview her, and in doing so they all are able to meet the Vice President of the United States. Towards the end of the movie, we also see him convince a freshman girl to go with him to his senior prom. He is shown to be a person who can read a person and figure out what would appeal to them.
Ross Lynch who plays teenage Jeffrey Dahmer does an excellent job. He’s nails the look and demeanor of an awkward teenage kid who is more interested in science, especially the morbid kind. He also gets to the darkness of the character. We get to see him lovingly stroke the acid cleaned bones of a small animal that he likely created from roadkill that he collected. Thankfully the film only hints at the escalation from roadkill to actually killing live animals. We get to see his first attempt which he isn’t able to follow through with. There’s also a tense scene towards the end when he finally confronts his artist friend Derf Backderf with the possible intention of killing him with a baseball bat.
The best part of this film is the ability to see the internal struggle with Dahmer. His home life is difficult with a mother who is too self-absorbed to really care much about her children and a father who’s more interested in his work as a chemist which leaves Jeff and his younger brother to fend for themselves for the most part. Not only that, but we also get to see his struggle with his homosexuality. It’s initially hinted at with his interest in a guy who frequently runs down the street in front of his house. Dahmer later finds out that he is a doctor and schedules a physical with him where he gets aroused during the “turn your head and cough” portion of the exam. The arousal leads to frustration, anger, and violence. We also get to see how he equates homosexuality with negativity as his initial friend gets bullied with homosexual slurs.
But what’s probably the most disturbing thing about the events of his life are generally how mundane it all is. His parents are somewhat neglectful and create a difficult home environment, but they are far from abusive. There are bullies in the high school but we never really see Dahmer himself get bullied aside from relatively minor teasing. There are hints at his eventual drinking problem, but it’s rarely the focus of attention. Instead, it’s all presented in a very matter of fact way like this is just the life of a normal person who is a little on the weird side. There are definitely some warning signs besides the proclivity to pick up roadkill and dissolve the bodies in acid. He also randomly knifes open a fish just to see its insides when they were supposed to catch and release. The film paints a very neutral picture of a serial killer. You can find some sympathy in his life, but it’s not forced upon you, and his actions are never glorified or excused. There are no explanations for his behavior, My Friend Dahmer shows you the dark path that he is going down all the way up to just before the end as he picks up what would become his first victim. The only downside to this film is that it can feel a little slow at times. There are moments of tension here and there, but it mostly presents Dahmer’s life in a very mundane and normal way despite the fact that it is far from normal. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.