Now Streaming: “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story”

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The darkest headlines on American newspapers almost 30 years ago were the ones that announced the work of serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer. Audiences who lived through the events the first time will get a glimpse of what they were not privy to decades ago. While the story is partly fictionalized because some details cannot be known by those who survive, the more significant issues of marginalization of women, homosexuals, and people of color, and the problematic relationship with police those groups tend to have, are created vividly.

About “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story”

The series is in 10 episodes. Still, there is a cinematic feel as each episode completes a narrative arc. The story begins when Jeffrey is a child. Viewers are privy to his interest in science, in taxidermy, and how living beings become dead ones. At times it feels as though certain depictions are presented to provide possible explanations for why Jeffrey turned out the way he did. None of the reasons seem plausible. Perhaps the childhood surgery theory is the most likely, but without research, there is little proof for it.

The series begins in 1966; Jeffrey was born in 1960. Audiences are shown an anti-social boy, who even at age six is beginning to fixate on dark or unpleasant things. Adding to the sense of time and place is the soundtrack. There is no indication that Jeffrey was a fan of any particular song or music genre, but the music reminds audiences of the time period.

Unheard voices and the underlying trauma of “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story”

When one of Jeffrey’s early victims gets away, and runs down the street naked, a concerned neighbor, Glenda Cleveland (played by the versatile and convincing Niecy Nash) gets involved and tells the police that the boy is a “baby” (he is 14). But Jeffrey comes along and says that the boy is 19, and they are a couple. The police release the boy to Dahmer. Later, Glenda hears the boy being murdered. She will hear almost all the victims getting killed. She will complain about the smell She will call the police, only to be threatened or ignored.

While some online commenters have claimed that the victims’ families were not onboard with the project, at the very least the neighbors and the police actions could have been preserved and dramatized. Thirty or so years ago, little was known about the victims, their dreams, their parents’ fears and hopes for them, etc. Whatever its flaws, “Monster” reminds viewers that Jeffrey’s victims were whole people, not just names on a list, or a collection of black-and-white photos.

Throughout “Monster,” the elder Dahmer, Lionel, seems to be at once an enabler, but at turns is capable of tough love. When he begins to blame himself for his older son’s actions, audiences might feel sorry for his plight, and consider that the feeling comes too late to help anyone.

Jeffrey is played by Evan Peters, of “American Horror Story” fame. His portrayal of Dahmer is believable, especially when it comes to the actions of Dahmer that annoyed his fellow inmates. That behavior would lead to his death. Actually, Dahmer was not the only inmate killed that day, a fact left out of some newspaper reportage of the time, and probably not fair to that person or his family, regardless of his crimes.

Watching “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” might not change all viewers’ minds about the infamous serial killer. The show might provide details about the timeline and true number of victims that the public probably does not know about. Certainly Glenda Cleveland is the hero of the story. The victims should be remembered for their dreams and the work they tried to accomplish.

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