With a baby on the way my wife and I decided to get out for what may be our last ‘out on the town’ date before our girl arrives. There was no consideration of any other film, we were going to see My Friend Dahmer. We had to drive an hour+ out of town, as this film hasn’t the reach of a typical Hollywood blockbuster. We arrived in Athens, Ohio to find the streets flooded with college students, but had little trouble navigating through the hoards of bobcats.
Anxious to get our seating preference we were the first in the theater. Back row: center… as always… if it can be managed.
The film delivers much of the same that Backderf’s graphic novel of the same title had to offer. It reveals the complications of closeted homosexuality in a ‘we don’t talk about that kinda thing’ environment, a distant/hostile home life, and the escapism of chronic alcohol abuse. Dahmer isn’t a character that stirs much in the way of empathy, nor does the movie glorify his violent crimes, instead I feel that the movie seeks to show a cultural failure to help a troubled youth. The ‘friends’ Dahmer made along the way only catered to his company as a means of exploiting his antics for their own entertainment. They put him in situations, pressuring him to act out, and reveled in the results. It’s not the most flattering way Backderf could’ve presented himself, but the honesty draws me in more than the prospect of fabricated friendship.
Backderf’s involvement in Dahmer’s life was amplified for the sake of making a more cohesive film, while the graphic novel was more fragmented in a way that filled the gaps with assumptions. Backderf’s comic suggested they only got together outside of school on one occasion, and that’s not enough for a full length feature film. That’s the main difference between the two mediums. Aside from this issue, Dahmer’s mother is presented with a particular mania of sorts that wasn’t expressed in the graphic novel. The comic book shows Mrs. Dahmer in a depressive state that borders on catatonic, while the movie explores her mental instability through argumentative highs. I also wish that the prom scene had included Dahmer’s awkward parting handshake with his date at the end of the night. But these gripes are for the purists who want a book and film to be exactly the same, and I’m not that kind of fan. For what it is My Friend Dahmer is an honest prelude to tragedy that is tragic in an of itself.