"The Making of a Serial Killer"
The title MY FRIEND DAHMER is likely to bring a shiver down the spine of just about anyone who ever heard of Jeffrey Dahmer. As the mind shifts between horror and disgust, many people might wonder how anyone could become a killer of 17 men and boys. MY FRIEND DAHMER struggles to answer that question. The movie focuses on the teenage years of the serial killer, which appears to be the span of time where he transforms from a troubled misfit in a dysfunctional family into a cannibalistic killer.
Based on a book by a man who went to high school with the title character, MY FRIEND DAHMER opens with an ordinary bus ride that focuses on a seemingly ordinary awkward and gawky teenage boy, Jeffrey Dahmer. At first glance, it looks like a “misfit” boy goes home to an ordinary middle-class family. As the story unfolds, the dysfunction of the boy and his family grow exponentially.
Dahmer is visibly affected and disturbed at the constant fighting between his parents. As Dahmer struggles to have a “normal” life with friends, his mother, Joyce’s, drug habits and severe mental health issues are a constant source of shame and embarrassment. His father, Lionel, a nerdy scientist, grapples with the insanity of his wife’s behavior. Noticing a downward family spiral, he makes an effort and shuts down Dahmer’s “science lab,” which is really a shack where Dahmer uses acid to dissolve animals in jars.
At the same time, Dahmer’s strange outbursts and public disturbances win him the title of “Class Mascot.” His newfound friends Derf, Mike and Neil set Dahmer up to act out teenage pranks of public disturbance. The friends describe their ploy as a way for everyone to have fun. The pranks spiral out of control as the friends pay Dahmer money to act out in public like a madman. The antics cause Dahmer to be feared and rejected. Discovering the so-called friends are only making fun him, Dahmer cuts off ties and shows a new loathing for humanity. This leaves the viewer to wonder if the class mascot pranks, that play out at times like bullying, led Dahmer into further despair, isolation and desperation and inevitably push him over the edge to become a serial killer.
A particularly strong trigger for Dahmer is his parents’ divorce. Unable to cope with the growing mental instability of his family, Lionel files for divorce while his son is away on a school trip. Going from bad to worse, the family is completely divided when Joyce leaves the home with Dahmer’s younger brother Dave. Lionel also moves out, leaving Dahmer completely abandoned. Dahmer escapes into an increasingly morbid fantasy world. The morbid fantasy world comes to life when, as the movie closes, viewers see Dahmer pick up his first victim.
MY FRIEND DAHMER tells the story of the transformation of a strange, awkward teenager into a killer. Shifting back and forth between feeling empathy and horror, the movie does a good job revealing the humanity of Dahmer while not excusing his evil acts. The actors give a believable screen presentation, with an exceptional performance delivered by Ross Lynch as Dahmer. Director Marc Meyers is brilliant as he continuously uses subtlety to deliver a powerful plot. As the story unfolds, it is both cathartic and enlightening because the movie shows how the lack of love, kindness and acceptance creates so much evil and violence in Dahmer. Substance abuse, bullying and occultism are also key factors in Dahmer’s psychotic breakdown, and so was homosexual confusion. MY FRIEND DAHMER is an insightful cautionary tale on the effects of a dysfunctional family life, drug use and bullying.
However, the movie misses the mark by only addressing the physical, social and psychological elements of Dahmer’s life that led to a life of heinous crimes. To nobody’s surprise, Dahmer struggled and claimed to be possessed by demons. At Dahmer’s sanity trial, an intended victim, Tracy Edwards, claimed that, “Dahmer chanted and rocked back and forth while watching the movie Exorcist III in his bedroom. Dahmer allegedly became excited during scenes in the movie that depict a priest possessed by the devil.” Although it is fair to say that drugs, mental health and childhood experiences greatly affect us, many people miraculously survive these elements (especially if they establish a strong personal relationship with Jesus Christ) and don’t become cannibalistic serial killers. History reveals there was a deep seated spiritual problem with Dahmer he himself admitted, but MY FRIEND DAHMER completely ignores this aspect of Jeffrey Dahmer’s story. Of course, there are about 25 Bible verses about Jesus casting out demons. In order to solve a spiritual problem, you must have a spiritual answer, Jesus Christ. Though it lacks this context and has a humanist worldview, MY FRIEND DAHMER thoughtfully gives a carefully empathic and at the same time creepy account of one of the worst, most infamous serial killers in history.
That said, MY FRIEND DAHMER contains some strong foul language and a lot of disturbing, lurid content. It also reveals Dahmer’s homosexual tendencies. Ultimately, MY FRIEND DAHMER contains excessive objectionable content and no real answers to the killer’s obvious sinfulness. Though it’s well made and somewhat insightful, it’s an unacceptable movie.
(HH, B, OO, HoHo, LL, VVV, SS, NN, AA, DD, MM) Strong humanist worldview about a serial killer that offers few spiritual insights but does have some moral elements as it shows how a dysfunctional family mixed with drugs and bullying leads to violence and evil, including the movie shows that the killer’s occult torture and killing of animals is repugnant, plus the killer’s homosexual tendencies are part of the story; about 11 obscenities (including six “f” words), two strong profanities, some anti-homosexual slurs, and some vulgarities; some graphic, strong and light violence includes cutting and stabbing a fish to “see what it look like inside,” dissolving animals that are already dead in acid because the man “likes bones,” images of “road kill” animals shown several times, brief scene of tortured and gutted dog, bloody scene of man pulling the guts out of a possum that’s already dead, bullying, hitting and harassing a secondary character, and scenes of teenage pranks of disturbing public property by throwing things, disturbing public property and vandalizing a store; strong sexual content includes masturbation scene viewed from the back of a man in his underwear, teenager is sexually attracted to his male doctor (mostly implied), teenager is sexually attracted to friends’ mothers, doctor asks teenager if he’s sexually active, and teenagers asks what kind of sex, derogatory comments about male and female anatomy, and miscellaneous homosexual references (including slurs); image of upper female nudity in a photo, plus upper and rear male nudity, and young man is shown in his underwear; a few party scenes show teenage drinking and drunkenness, and title character guzzles alcohol; smoking, main character’s mother is a chain smoker, who also takes drugs, characters smoke pot and get high in an implied and overt manner, and dialogue reveals mother took drugs while pregnant with main character, who eventually becomes a serial killer who likes to torture animals as well; and, lying, stealing, looting, parents are bad role models, parents are dysfunctional and are constantly fighting, parents abandon main character completely when he’s in high school, and parents are inattentive to the needs of their family.
MY FRIEND DAHMER is a tragic, horrific movie about the notorious serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer. Jeffrey is a “misfit” from a dysfunctional family, who becomes fascinated with violence. He begins collecting road kill animals to dissolve in acid. As his home and social life become more degenerate and his obsession progresses, Jeffrey begins to torture and kill animals. Eventually, he’s abandoned by his family and friends. This isolation helps transform Jeffrey into one of the most vile, repugnant serial killers of all time.
MY FRIEND DAHMER is well made, with subtle direction by Marc Meyers. The actors give believable screen performances, with Ross Lynch particularly exceptional as Jeffrey Dahmer. The movie is both cathartic and enlightening because it shows how the lack of love, kindness and acceptance creates so much evil and violence in Dahmer. Substance abuse, bullying and occultism are also key factors in Dahmer’s psychotic breakdown. That said, the movie’s humanist worldview avoids any religious answers to Dahmer’s condition. It also contains strong foul language and lots of disturbing, lurid content. Ultimately, MY FRIEND DAHMER has too much objectionable content.