Sunday, July 08, 2012

"Dahmer": disturbing biography, somewhat incomplete

The 2002 film “Dahmer”, directed by David Jacobson, is a dramatization of the notorious life, from fantasy to horrifying acts, of Jeffrey Dahmer, who is played by Jeremy Renner.

The visitor is invited to read the detailed biography in Wikipedia.  It is graphic, and the details need not be dwelled upon for their own sake here.  But Dahmer’s history was obviously very troubled long before his final period in Milwaukee.

The film focuses on his life in that apartment 213 in a low-income area of Milwaukee. He could be seductive with his guests.  It’s perhaps interesting to compare this real life tragedy with a famous gay horror short with a somewhat similar theme, “Bugcrush”  (Jan. 29, 2008), where the viewer wants to pull the “guest” right out of the movie scene but is still titillated by the perpetrator.

The film does cover, in flashbacks, some of Dahmer’s troubled relationship with his father (Bruce Davison) and grandmother, as well as an episode in Ohio at age 18 where, when home alone, he invites a fellow high school wrestler over, leading to a violent end, activity which he would not resume for nin years.  At one point, he tells the wrestler that he (the wrestler) will get married, have kids, and develop a pot belly, and presumably ruin the fantasy of perfection that he could display in youth.  In the commentary after, the filmmakers noted that Dahmer saw people just as object for his own pleasure.

The film shows, early, a missed opportunity by police to catch him, as well as another one in Ohio when he was stopped for drinking and driving. It does not go into detail on the final arrest (although it shows the evening with the young man that led to it), or the trial; and it gives only a few images of life in a Wisconsin prison, where he would be slain by another inmate after just two years of incarceration.

There are a few other interesting scenes that are well done: his being trained to work in a chocolate factory, and a scene where a bouncer tosses him out of a gay bar. 

Lionsgate has a similar film from 2006 “Raising Jeffrey Dahmer” by Rich Ambler, apparently more from the viewpoint of his father. 

The idea of a dramatization of a notorious person like this is to dramatize what makes him tick. Still, I think that the subject matter is better served by documentary.  For example,  I think it would be good if a documentary filmmaker (maybe even someone like Morgan Spurlock) made a film about a few of the more disturbing cases caught in the Dateline Internet stings.  While the people are disturbing, the actions in the criminal justice system and treatment programs are important to document.  The case of Rabbi David Kaye is particularly disturbing, for example, because  it was so long before he was even prosecuted.  What happens to people when they are finally on “supervised probation”?  What on earth is their “treatment” like?

My last visit to Milwaukee occurred in Nov. 2000. Wikipedia attribution link for Milwaukee picture, here

The DVD (from Peninsula Films) has a featurette discussing how the film tried to look at Dahmer’s psyche, “The Mind Is a Place of its Own

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