After making the third installment in his Conversations With a Killer docuseries trilogy, director Joe Berlinger sees some humanity in the infamous Milwaukee Cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer.
“The reason I find Dahmer so fascinating is that we see glimpses of humanity,” Berlinger tells MovieMaker. “I know when I say that, some people are going to, like, go through the roof — ‘What are you talking about?’ But he is a human being. And we see glimpses of humanity that makes him different than other serial killers, and perhaps provides a clue as to how we can solve the riddle of why certain — and it’s usually men, and it’s usually white men, but not always — why people go down this path. Because only by understanding how the brain functions and understanding how empathy works, can we ever solve the riddle of why people do these things to you know, why this is part of the human condition.”
That’s why Berlinger wants to remind audiences of the Netflix series that people like Dahmer exist — and to show them the warning signs.
“Why I feel it’s important to put these shows out is that you want to send the warning signs out,” he says. “You want people to be able to recognize somebody who’s in need. For example, Dahmer, at an early age, had an obsession with dead animals. So if somebody watches the show… and there’s somebody they know that has an obsession with dead animals, the way Dahmer did, maybe that person will take, you know, keep an extra eye out. I’m not saying that everyone who has an obsession with animals is a serial killer, but it is a warning sign.”
Berlinger thinks that if someone had tried to get Dahmer help, he might have stopped after his first murder in 1978.
“There was nine years between his first and second killings. There was a nine-year gap where he tried to control himself, where he was sleeping with mannequins instead of real people to see if that would provide him with the companionship that he was looking for, that he was craving. But ultimately, he lost the battle and then went on a killing spree. During that nine year period, if somebody had recognized some of the warning signs, maybe it would have had a different outcome. So I think retelling these stories for a new generation is critically important to try to identify people who might be leaning towards that,” Berlinger says. “I think it’s incredibly important to remind law enforcement that when you view things with a homophobic and racial lens and you treat marginalized communities with disregard, that terrible things can happen. So there’s all sorts of reasons to tell these stories.”
Conversations With a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes is now streaming on Netflix, along with Conversations With a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes and Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.
Main Image: Wendy Patrickus and Jeffrey Dahmer pictured in Conversations With a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes courtesy of Netflix.