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DahmerReview - Dahmer
DVD
by David Jacobson (Director)
First Look Pictures, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Feb 18th 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 7)

Dahmer is a portrayal of the life and crimes of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. In the accompanying "featurette" on the DVD, director/writer David Jacobson says his aim was not to make a standard horror movie, but rather to show how much Dahmer was like other people. He succeeds at this, and may indeed be too successful, because he leaves it mysterious what led Dahmer to such extreme actions. Jeremy Renner plays Dahmer as a young man struggling with his homosexuality with a rather unexpressive family living in the straight-laced context of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We certainly see some of Dahmer's bizarre behavior, such as his obsession with mannequins, his keeping of a victim's head in a locked box in a closet while he was living with his grandmother, his giving a lobotomy to one of his victims with an electric drill in order to stop the man from wanting to leave his apartment, and his keeping victims' bodies in his bedroom. We can only conclude that he must have had some psychotic beliefs that led him to think that such actions would achieve anything for him, but we never really get to see Dahmer's psychosis more directly. Instead, we see through a number of scenes that he was very isolated and lonely. Of course, many people are lonely, but they don't try to make company for themselves by filling their houses with corpses. Renner's Dahmer is simply subdued and even placid, even when he is violent. We see hardly any signs of rage, frenzy, or even despair. The most passionate he gets is when one man tries to escape his apartment, and the police come. After they leave, he strangles the man, but it isn't clear whether it is because he is angry that the man tried to leave or because he almost led to Dahmer getting caught.

While Jacobson's script is based on the real life of Dahmer, it uses some artistic license with the facts, combining details of several victims. While Dahmer killed 17 young men, we see only a few murders. Presumably Jacobson had to invent a number of details concerning Dahmer's family. But on the whole the film is reasonably close to the known facts. The story switches in time from near to the end of Dahmer's criminal career to the past, going back further in time with each flashback. This can be a little confusing, especially since the attempts to make Renner look younger with each flashback are not entirely successful. The liveliest character in the film is a young black man called Rodney, played by Artel Kayaru. Rodney befriends the unlikely figure of Dahmer because he feels some connection to him, since they both know what it is like to be rejected by society for their differences from others. Kayaru brings some energy to the film, which makes it more interesting, as well as providing some suspense as the audience wonders whether Rodney will escape alive.

On the DVD commentary, Jacobson, Renner and Kayaru carry on a pretty light-hearted discussion as the film plays, sometimes giving the impression they are talking merely to ensure that there is no silence. The commentary provides some information about the making of the film, but the accompanying featurette provides more insight into Jacobson's directorial decisions.

Dahmer does a good job of portraying the life of a serial killer without lapsing into gore or sensationalism. For a low-budget production, it feels professionally-made and it manages to hold the viewer's interest all the way through.

 

2006 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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