Review of the Netflix series Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Rating *****
Nurture vs. nature. What caused Jeffrey Dahmer to turn into a serial killer? This Netflix ten-part series tries to answer that question. On the nurture side of the equation, there is his dysfunctional family life. His parents divorced early in his life. His mother abandoned him on more than one occasion. And then there is the father whose idea of spending time with his son involved dissecting road kill. As for nature’s role in Jeffrey Dahmer’s life, there is the fact that his mother was taking over twenty medications while she was pregnant with Jeffrey. And his father admitted to having fantasies of killing people.
Regardless of which side you fall on, Jeffrey Dahmer was a sociopath. He lacked empathy for his victims. His motivation appears to be that he got some sexual gratification from drugging his victims, leaving them incapacitated, and then doing whatever he wanted with his victims who could not defend themselves. His attempts to create zombies by drilling into the brains of his living victims and then pouring acid in their brains show that he wanted his victims available as living mannequins. The episode with a real mannequin is one to watch.
Some reviewers have criticized the series for emphasizing that Jeffrey Dahmer was gay, arguing that his sexual orientation was not a primary factor in making Dahmer a serial killer. I disagree. You couldn’t tell the Jeffrey Dahmer story without showing that he was gay and that most of his victims were also gay.
The series does a good job of showing all sides of the story, from the missed opportunities to catch and stop Dahmer, to the effect on the victims’ families, to the effect that Dahmer’s arrest and conviction had on his parents.
Evan Peters is exceptional as Jeffrey Dahmer. The supporting cast of Richard Jenkins as Jeffrey Dahmer’s father, Molly Ringwald as his stepmother, Penelope Ann Miller as Jeffrey’s mother, and Michael Learned as his grandmother all have their moments. Nicey Nash, who plays Jeffrey Dahmer’s neighbor, also does a commendable job portraying someone who knew something wasn’t right with the guy next door.
The filmmakers don’t glorify the crimes or Jeffrey Dahmer. Instead, they show what happened and give viewers a set of facts about Dahmer’s upbringing that could help explain his behavior. In Jeffrey Dahmer’s case, it very well could have been both nurture and nature that created a serial killer.