My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?
Directed by Werner Herzog
Produced by Eric Bassett
Executive Producer: David Lynch
Written by Herbert Golder & Werner Herzog
Starring: Michael Shannon
***** (5 out of 5 stars)
So what? So, what? So.. what?
Sometimes you don't know what to think while watching Herzog's latest endeavour. Moments where the camera stops, and we literally watch a frozen frame: there is no pause or freeze to it, the actors literally stop moving and stare as if they're caught in the reality that is being filmed, as if to say "Hey we're making a movie here". Other times, Herzog literally just films people in their natural state. Brad McCullum goes to Peru to find himself and explore the world, and in one scene is walking through a market; it looks in this scene as if Werner Herzog literally just shot clips of people on the street and then edited to be from Brad's point of view, a very effective technique (along with Brad monologuing, talking about how people seem to keep staring right at him, into him). Music also plays a huge part in this film, and a strange one. Brad keeps playing a song by Washington Phillips, "I Am Born to Preach the Gospel", over and over, saying that this was "it". All these oddities create Herzog's world, where we weave in through past and present, blindly following McCullum on a bizarre trek through his mind.
Werner Herzog is probably my favourite director, and when I heard that Absurda (David Lynch's production company- of whom I'm also a huge fan) was putting out his latest work.. well let's say I was a little more than thrilled. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? is, in my mind, a masterpiece; admittedly, there are some confusing elements to the story that the movie tells but it is a classic indeed. Based on a true story, Herzog tells the tale of a series of events that led up to a man killing his mother with a sword. We watch a series of flashbacks about the time leading up to the murder, told mainly by the man's fiancee (Chloe Sevingy) and close friend (Udo Kier) to the lead detective on the scene (Willem Dafoe). The man (Michael Shannon) claims to have two hostages with him inside the house, and the police are setup outside to try and defuse the situation. Slowly, the story of Brad McCullum unfolds before our eyes. For the most part it makes perfect sense but of course Werner Herzog, responsible for many classic films of both documentary format and fiction, has to give the story a thick air of mystery; a few scenes in particular leave the viewer truly wondering- what is happening?
The directing is always the highlight of a Herzog film for me, no matter if the subject matter is sensational or if Kinski was on the screen hamming it up; a filmmaker like him usually tends to be very true to form, very distinctive. At every point in this movie you can tell you're in his world. Even in his non-documentary films, Werner manages to give us such a real looking, real feeling environment that it may as well be a documentary that we're watching; this works even more effectively than normal, as this is based on a true story.
Michael Shannon is the true glory of this movie. I've seen him time and time again playing different roles but always seeming like the odd man out- here, Herzog places him at the center of a bizarre mystery that unravels the mind of an eccentric man. Shannon plays a man in his mid to late thirties, Brad, who still lives with his mother, and is trying to balance between that and a relationship with his fiancee (played wonderfully, as always, by Chloe Sevigny). It's not so much the eccentricities that keep us watching, it's the hope that eventually we will find something to explain the alienation of Brad McCullum. We never truly get a good explanation as to why he's turned out like this, maybe only the fact that his mother was overbearing and strange in her own right. Sevigny plays Ingrid well- a young fiancee trying to bring her husband-to-be back to reality and keep him grounded. She is a simple character but she plays the concerned party very well, just as her character in Zodiac played off of Gyllenhaal's determined persona; we also get to see Udo Kier, a guilty pleasure of mine, play a friend and fellow actor/director in the same capacity, as a worried friend.
Willem Dafoe is one of my favourite actors and has been since he played a powerhouse of a character in Oliver Stone's Platoon. He is an actor who doesn't seem to fall into the character, but always put his own little fun twist on who he is playing. One of the highlights is very early into the movie when he tells his partner, played by Michael Pena, about a law enforcement situation; Dafoe puts on his cute, Souther belle voice as he laughs with Pena about the story. This is something that always stands out for me with Willem Dafoe, the small idiosyncrasies he puts into his roles. Also worth mentioning is Brad Dourif who is always a pleasure to see onscreen, whether in a leading or minor role. Even as a blatant racist, Dourif is always worth watching (clearly everybody must remember Mississippi Burning!? Coincidentally, Dafoe is also in that film and plays a fine role indeed).
I had been waiting for a long time to see this movie, ever since I got word that Lynch and Herzog were both involved in a project. Finally I was able to see it and I was not disappointed in the least. Another 5 star film. Werner Herzog continually surprises me, and it's nice to see Lynch producing something that isn't totally confusing (although Lynch is up on the top 5 directors list in my mind) and mind boggling. Although that's not to say that this movie doesn't mess with your head, but the fact is that this is based on a truly bizarre and macabre man's life and there is no trickery. What you see is what you get. Leave it up to Werner and Lynch to make it spin like a top.