My Friend Dahmer Review: Life Before Murder

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Erin Gardner | Culture Staff Writer | eg245916@ohio.edu

The Athena Cinema was one of the selected theaters to play My Friend Dahmer, the 2017 crime horror flick directed by Marc Meyers and starring Ross Lynch. My Friend Dahmer told the account of Jeffrey Dahmer’s early life.

Dahmer was an American serial killer and sex offender that raped, murdered, and dismembered 17 young men between 1978-1991. Nicknamed the Milwaukee Cannibal, Dahmer’s murders involved necrophilia, cannibalism, and the conservation of body parts through hydrochloric acid. Dahmer was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, and a psychotic disorder, but he was diagnosed legally sane at his trial. Dahmer was convicted of 15 murders and was sentenced to 15 terms of life in prison.

My Friend Dahmer shines a light on Dahmer’s teenage years. Ross Lynch provides an excellent adaptation of the geeky and almost pathetic Dahmer. Growing up, Dahmer began to have an interest in animals and their bones. His dad worked in a lab, so he was excited to see Dahmer take an interest in biology and chemistry. This interest became obsessive when Dahmer would take roadkill and submerge the animals in weak hydrochloric acid to dissolve the flesh and expose the bones. When other kids became disturbed by Dahmer’s behavior, Dahmer simply said “I like bones.” In an attempt to make friends, Dahmer would ‘spaz’ through actions similar to cerebral palsy. He soon becomes the joke of the school and Dahmer mistakes this as being popular. As the film progresses, Dahmer’s parents get a divorce and his obsession with death begins to grow.

Throughout the movie, there are subtle clues of Dahmer’s real-life killings. For example, Dahmer ‘spazzes’ at the grocery store while his friends are watching. John ‘Derf’ Backderf, one of Dahmer’s friends, tells the group that they can’t do that with grown-ups in the real world. Adults at school are okay to do it to because they are “zombies.” Dahmer confessed to trying to create a zombie by injecting hydrochloric acid into his victims’ frontal lobes. Also, Dahmer influences a freshman girl into going to prom with him, which he later abandons her to eat a burger and fries in his car. The movie points to obvious signs that Dahmer was gay, but given the time period, Lynch portrays Dahmer as trying to suppress his sexuality by dating girls.

In recent years, there has evolved a culture of the romanticization of serial killers. Teen Vogue editor Sandra Song perfectly explains “we are continually fed this idea that white male serial killers are charming, debonair characters — that they’re just misunderstood, incomprehensibly complex people who also happen to have a strange proclivity for the dark and macabre.” There are thousands of tweets glorifying and romanticizing serial killers, claiming that they are misunderstood and are attractive. These serial killers can range from Richard Ramirez and Ted Bundy to Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev of the Boston Marathon bombing.

My Friend Dahmer avoids this romanticism and instead humanizes Dahmer. Lynch portrays Dahmer as a confused teenage boy. Dahmer’s action leaves the audience disturbed, but not fascinated with the serial killer. Dahmer is not glorious or a hopeless romantic, but instead rather dorky and off.

Jayda Martin, a freshman, shares “the movie reminded me of a prequel. We are already aware of the main events that happened in his life, but this movie showed the little events that bred a serial killer inside of him. We never see these events portrayed in a romanticized manner.”

“I saw My Friend Dahmer two nights in a row and it was amazing. Most aspects, even the outlandish ones were true to Dahmer’s life and I think that’s very admirable in a film,” said freshman Abigail Gifford. “I don’t believe it romanticized him at all, I did think that it humanized him which (in my sometimes-unpopular opinions) is necessary.”

Maisy Mcclellan, a freshman, said that she “really enjoyed the film. The cast was wonderful and the main actor Ross Lynch did an excellent job at portraying Dahmer.” Like the majority opinion, Mcclellan agrees “I don’t think they romanticized him. I do believe that they really opened my eyes a bit and actually made me feel bad. Obviously, he was a terrible person and did horrendous things. But I wonder what would have happened if he had gotten the help he needed, and had better parents to support him. One question me and my friend talked about, is what might have happened to him if he was born in this era where sexuality is accepted rather than suppressed.”

 

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