That book, My Friend Dahmer has gone on to international acclaim, been translated into a several languages, and on Friday a motion-picture adaptation starring Ross Lynch as Dahmer goes into general release.
Derf has been and will be accused of cashing in on a horrific tragedy, but that charge can more reasonably be made of previous made-for-TV films which capitalized on the gruesome and inhuman acts performed by Dahmer during the years of his crimes. This story has as much to do with the psychology of a would-be-but-not-yet killer as with the world which fostered his desires and compulsions, and provided the opportunity to make his fantasies come to fruition.
As one of the more self-pitying members of Generation X, I have loudly and at length whined about the disastrous effect the 1970s had on its children, when media was skewed entirely toward the interests of rising Baby Boomers. Our television programs and films churned out tales of easy sex, transient relationships, and graphic violence, while popular music dwelt on maudlin thoughts and liberal mores, and no one was looking after the kids.
|From "My Friend Dahmer" the graphic novel by Derf|
The film captures that late 70s mood without fetishizing it, as so many contemporary films do. The suburban torpor of a nation in decline, and the effect that has on its citizens, especially the young people is on full display.
Derf has often suggested that his book is an indictment of the adults who failed in their responsibility, providing no oversight, and in this way allowing a neglected, alienated monster to come to life. Dahmer may have been destined, either through fate or natural design, to become a murderous sociopath. But why did no one see the signs?
The screenwriter and director Marc Meyers made the decision not to employ a narrator. Derf comments on the proceedings in his novel through the use of captions, and in this way he himself leads us through the narrative. We are never alone with Jeffrey Dahmer. Without narration, Dahmer's increasing isolation from humanity (portrayed hauntingly by Lynch) is ours to witness in isolation.
It is this emotional connection -- not sympathy, which is feeling, but empathy, which is understanding -- that makes the final scene of the film so chilling. I won't spoil it for you. It's enough to say that in any other film, it would be moment of triumph, and of celebration. Our main character finally knows who he is.
And he is free.
"My Friend Dahmer" makes its Cleveland premiere at the Capitol Theatre next Friday, November 10, 2017.