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Throughout cinema history, there have been some iconic nude scenes that have transcended the bounds of the films in which they appeared. Our weekly column Anatomy of a Scene's Manatomy will take an in-depth look at these scenes, their history, their deeper meanings, and their legacy. This week, former Disney star Ross Lynch makes us question everything we know about the sexiness of a serial killer as the title character in My Friend Dahmer.

In 2012, John Backderf created a graphic novel titled "My Friend Dahmer" based on his friendship with the future serial killer throughout middle and high school. While not offering anything remotely resembling an excuse for his murderous behavior, he does paint an empathetic portrait of the serial killer as a young man, constantly bullied by classmates and mistreated by the adults in his life. It is an attempt by its author to reconcile the monster the world knew with the troubled young man he knew, while also not shying away from his and his friends' tendency to mascot Dahmer, encouraging his antisocial behavior as a way to shake up the status quo. 

It's admittedly a tough sell attempting to humanize any inhuman figure, but the graphic novel and 2017 film adaptation of the same name do a fairly decent job of making Jeffrey Dahmer pitiable without encouraging the audience to sympathize with him. It's certainly a much less sensational look at the serial killer than the 2002 film starring Jeremy Renner, but this film's story ends more or less where that one begins, and it's much easier to empathize with a neglected teen than an active serial killer. 

Perhaps the most savvy move on the part of the film's director and screenwriter Marc Meyers was casting former Disney star Ross Lynch in the title role. It's a somewhat cheap but effective way to garner instant empathy for the character as many in the audience will remember him as Austin Moon from Austin & Ally. Lynch is paired with another musical child star turned adult actor in former Nickelodeon star Alex Wolff, playing Backderf. They may make for the most unlikely pair in a tale about an infamous serial killer, but both of these young men prove they've got what it takes to keep their careers going well into adulthood. 

While Lynch as Dahmer displays plenty of disturbing tendencies throughout the film's first hour, things really start to take a dark turn when he makes an appointment with Dr. Matthews (Mad Men's Vincent Kartheiser), a physician with whom Dahmer has become obsessed after seeing him jogging in the neighborhood. What follows is perhaps the most unsettling doctor's appointment put on film since poor Annabella Sciorra got assaulted by John de Lancie in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, with Dr. Matthews becoming visibly upset while checking Dahmer for hernias and realizing he has become aroused...

 

This is all unsettling enough, but the next time we see Dahmer, he's back home masturbating while thinking about the exam, and he later fantasizes about laying in bed with Dr. Matthews' corpse. We see him stalking the good doctor with a bat—the same instrument we later see him holding when he invites Backderf into his house the last time the author ever saw Dahmer. Once the slide into irredeemable evil begins for Dahmer, the audience quickly abandons any empathy they had for the character, but that's to be expected. What's truly interesting about Meyers' film is how he actually manages to make Jeffrey Dahmer seem... dare I say it... sexy. 

Granted, this has more to do with the actor playing the part than it does with the part he's playing. The Colorado native was just 21 when he shot the film, and yes the glasses and wig go some way toward making him look like Dahmer, but he's undeniably sexier than the man he's playing. It's almost like the typical outrage that pops up every Halloween when parents decry the costume industry for turning everything aimed at females sexy: Sexy Cop, Sexy Firefighter, Sexy Psychoanalyst. Ross Lynch is dressed up like a Sexy Serial Killer, which is both troubling and undeniably titillating. 

This, of course, begs the question of whether or not it's easier to empathize with this particular version of Dahmer because he's portrayed as a sexy twink. I don't know if that was the director's intention in casting Lynch, but it's certainly a decent enough rationale. So if you're watching My Friend Dahmer and find yourself thinking, "Wait a minute, was Jeffrey Dahmer hot?" just remind yourself that he wasn't, and that you've been suckered in by one of the oldest casting tricks in the book. It's Ross Lynch you find sexy, I promise, and there's nothing wrong with finding Ross Lynch sexy!

 

Catch up with our other editions of Anatomy of a Scene's Manatomy...

Two of History's Manliest Men Wrestle Naked in Women in Love

Ewan McGregor Has Got It, Flaunts It in Velvet Goldmine

A Pair of Stars are Born in Y Tu Mamá También

Harvey Keitel Goes Hog Wild in Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant

Viggo Mortensen is Naked From Every Imaginable Angle in Eastern Promises

There's No Shame is Michael Fassbender's Dick Game

Kevin Bacon Steals the Show Going Full Frontal in Wild Things

How We Met Jason Segel's Dick in Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Jack Reynor is Uniquely Vulnerable for a Man in Midsommar

Jaye Davidson Knows All There is to Know About The Crying Game

David Bowie Battles Rip Torn for Dick Supremacy in The Man Who Fell to Earth

Al Pacino Doesn't Get In All That Deep for William Friedkin's Cruising

John Cameron Mitchell's Ass Gives Hedwig and the Angry Inch the Perfect Ending