Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story

Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is one of those things that fits in the, ‘Good, but I don’t like it’ category of film and television, which at the very least, pushes it beyond the odious definition of film and television as entertainment.

What I admire most of all is that the series reaches beyond genre, and the tyranny of audience expectations, into the realm of ‘real’ storytelling.

I was really surprised when I saw it advertised as a programming ‘event’ on Netflix. I thought it might fall into the ‘unfilmable’ category, in a similar way to American Psycho, not least of all because of the relationship between Bret Easton Ellis’ novel and Dahmer’s story.

When Dahmer was arrested in the early nineties, I had followed the news reports at the time and become familiar with the basic series of events. Knowing how horrendous his crimes were, I wondered why Netflix would want to make it; Dahmer’s story had transpired within the deepest circles of hell.

The show is, in many ways, a tribute to what’s so great about Netflix. When you have ten episodes of an hour’s duration, you can actually make something more than what we’ve come to know as a film. Ten hours provides a much bigger canvas in which a subject, and a story, can be more comprehensively pursued, much closer to the scale of what is possible in a novel.

You would expect a film or series primarily concerned with a man who not only murders strangers, but keeps some of their body parts as trophies while eating others, to be a horror film. This is something far, far greater.

There is a strong parallel between Dahmer’s sexuality and his ‘orientation’ as a killer: both manifest as a secret shame that has slowly developed as he has matured. During an incident which could have been his sexual awakening, he is instead trapped within a spiralling rage which climaxes in murder. As a result, he finds himself saturated in even greater guilt and responsibility.

After his arrest, he confesses to detectives, ‘I’ve always been like this.’ The desire to murder, preserve and literally consume his victims is a profound, deep-seated impulse that is as strong as his sexuality, possibly because it is an aspect of it.

Upon capture, Dahmer is relieved, and wants to help someone in a position of authority to understand him. In understanding, there is release. On the verge of a life sentence in prison, this presents a very powerful paradox, indeed.

His life as a murderer emerges as a kind of congenital orientation. Something the ancient Greeks called ‘destiny’. That’s where the story takes on its quality of tragedy, where its protagonist is concerned, at least.    

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