Film and drama Opinion

Let's talk about Dahmer

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A new series based on the life and deeds of Jeffrey Dahmer has broken Netflix records and stirred up a controversial debate. Digital editor Dan Jensen shares his thoughts on this hot topic true crime series.

TRUE CRIME television has never been more popular. Dramatic series and documentaries, both fact and fiction, seem to have captured the interest of more viewers than ever, demonstrating a fascination with the darker side of the human psyche.

Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is a 10-part Netflix series following the life and crimes of one of America’s most notorious and depraved serial killers. Through a non-linear timeline, the series explores Dahmer’s childhood and the possible factors that motivated him to commit some of the most disturbing murders in history. But above all, the series spends time letting us know the victims who often become overlooked when serial killers are glorified.

Evan Peters plays the role of Jeffrey Dahmer with menacing perfection. It’s clear to see Peters spent a great amount of time researching every facet of Dahmer’s mannerisms and persona as he disappears completely into his performance. Through competent directing, great acting and solid writing, the series will challenge many viewers’ opinions of Dahmer and give plenty of fodder for discussion.

There is absolutely nothing that can ever justify what Dahmer did to his victims, but the series questions if his life might have taken a different course given the right guidance and treatment early on. The exploration of criminal psychology can be fascinating to many and this show goes pretty deeply into what potentially creates a monster.

Richard Jenkins and Penelope Ann Miller play the roles of Lionel and Joyce Dahmer, the parents of Jeffrey. Through their stories, a lot of questions are raised as to the part their volatile relationship might have played in twisting Dahmer’s mind. In one deeply touching scene, Lionel breaks down and accepts blame on his part for the aftermath, even considering having passed his own dark thoughts genetically to his son. It’s a heartbreaking moment, but one that pales in comparison to the victims’ stories.

One of the areas that sets Dahmer apart from previous accounts is the focus on the people who fell prey to the killer’s sickness. By the end of the series, you will know their names. You’ll know who these people were, which makes it even sadder that their young lives were cut short. The standout episode is the sixth in the series, the story of Tony Hughes (Rodney Burford), a deaf man who squeezed the most out of life and clearly had a lot of love for the world in which he lived. Not only do we get to know Tony but the family he left behind, devastated at such a great loss.

Parallel to the main plot is a commentary on the way the American police system failed the community involved due to homophobia and racism. In one scene, a barely conscious 14-year-old boy – Konerak Sinthasomphone (Kieran Tamondong) – manages to leave Dahmer’s apartment while left alone. Neighbours alert the police, who question Dahmer upon his return home as to his relationship with the boy. Claiming he was his 19-year-old boyfriend, the two officers involved return the boy to Dahmer’s apartment before exchanging homophobic slurs in their car.

Despite being stood down on paid leave, the officers involved were later reinstated, back paid and celebrated as heroes. And even though news headlines are still made today regarding prejudice among police forces, it’s still shocking to know that a simple background check on Dahmer would have revealed a prior conviction for child molestation, or even having looked further into the identity of Sinthasomphone might have saved the child’s life.

On a production level, the show gets everything right. The various time periods are recreated authentically, particularly the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in which most of it is set. Everything from fashion to set design feels realistic, with a grittiness added in thanks to some outstanding lighting and cinematography. Nothing about the series feels comfortable — exactly how it should be. The eerie soundtrack composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is suitably unnerving.

If you’re a fan of true crime television, this is essential viewing. It’s going to make you think. The creators of the series, Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, aimed to put so much focus on the victims that no one would sympathise with Dahmer. But the social media reaction to the show tells another story.

Many have taken to the internet claiming to feel condolence for the murderer, mostly due to Dahmer’s apparent remorse throughout his trial and the motivation for his deeds (loneliness and alienation). The finale shows a scene in which fellow serial killer John Wayne Gacy is executed, juxtaposed against a scene depicting Dahmer becoming a born-again Christian on the same day. It's open to interpretation as to what the creators intended to say, but it's not hard to see where Murphy and Brennan failed in their intentions.

This has outraged some family members of victims, feeling that the series has painted Dahmer as far too humane. But whichever side the viewer is left on, it makes for some interesting debate.

The series broke the record for the biggest-ever opening of a Netflix series, previously held by Squid Game. It doesn't always get everything right, with some characters and situations written specifically for the series. It also doesn't quite have enough room to divide time between all the victims equally, but at least it shines a light on those whose lives were taken too soon.

If you’re able to stomach details of some of the most gruesome crimes ever committed, Dahmer makes for some truly compelling viewing. It's a fascinating and often disturbing look at one of the darkest chapters in American crime and will haunt your thoughts long afterwards.

Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is now streaming on Netflix.

You can follow digital editor Dan Jensen on Twitter @DanJensenIA. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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