fri 25/09/2020

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done | reviews, news & interviews

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done

Herzog's slight though memorable portrait of an obsessive

Brad Macallum (Michael Shannon, with Chloe Sevigny) is 'Herzog’s latest one-man warrior against civilisation'

For 15 years after the death of his demon muse Klaus Kinski, Werner Herzog made documentaries about equally obsessive visionaries, climaxing five years ago with Grizzly Man’s tale of Timothy Treadwell, who loved and was eaten by bears. Though the documentaries continue, Herzog is now finally re-engaging with feature films.

For 15 years after the death of his demon muse Klaus Kinski, Werner Herzog made documentaries about equally obsessive visionaries, climaxing five years ago with Grizzly Man’s tale of Timothy Treadwell, who loved and was eaten by bears. Though the documentaries continue, Herzog is now finally re-engaging with feature films. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done was made back-to-back with Bad Lieutenant and shares some of its cast. But where the latter berserk Nick Cage cop film saw Herzog consciously attempt to reach new, young audiences, My Son, My Son is a more gnomic, matricidal mystery, nodding to its executive producer David Lynch.

For 15 years after the death of his demon muse Klaus Kinski, Werner Herzog made documentaries about equally obsessive visionaries, climaxing five years ago with Grizzly Man’s tale of Timothy Treadwell, who loved and was eaten by bears. Though the documentaries continue, Herzog is now finally re-engaging with feature films. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done was made back-to-back with Bad Lieutenant and shares some of its cast. But where the latter berserk Nick Cage cop film saw Herzog consciously attempt to reach new, young audiences, My Son, My Son is a more gnomic, matricidal mystery, nodding to its executive producer David Lynch.

Brad Macallum (Michael Shannon) is Herzog’s latest one-man warrior against civilisation, holed up in a flamingo-infested San Diego house on the morning we meet him, having run his mother through with a samurai sword. As a clueless detective (Willem Dafoe), Brad’s girlfriend (Chloe Sevigny, pictured below) and Udo Kier as his director in a production of Euripides’s Orestes - in the title role of which Brad murders his mother - wait outside, they piece together the events that led him here.

My_Son_My_Son_What_Have_Ye_Done_movie_image__Michael_ShannonHerzog again turned to fact for inspiration: in 1979, Mark Yavorsky killed his mother in San Diego after rehearsing Orestes, though when the director visited him in the late Nineties and found that Yavorsky had built a rough shrine to his film Aguirre, Wrath of God and was still dangerously psychotic, he abandoned any documentary intentions. Shannon (Oscar-nominated for Revolutionary Road and also impressive this week as The Runaways’ monstrous manager Kim Fowley), with his heavy brow and hooded, sleepless eyes, makes Brad a lupine Manson figure, a bomb ticking ever louder to an internal logic.

But unless you read Herzog’s film as a portrayal of the artificial and unconvincing world as Brad comes to see it, there’s little pretence at reality or conventional emotional engagement here. Other characters’ stilted speech sounds as if they’re in a play, or a cheap B-movie. Despite Lynch’s involvement, this isn’t one of his broken, impenetrable puzzles, but a perfectly explicable story, marked by Herzog’s interest in place, stillness and discomfort. A silence between Brad, his girlfriend and his oppressive mother (Grace Zabriskie) holds long enough to evolve from awkward to insane, Zabriskie’s mouth twitching from the social pressure’s G-force.

Like Dennis Hopper’s later, compromised films as director, much of the pleasure lies in the odd actors and scenes Herzog assembles on the margins. Sevigny (seeming both innocent and jaded), Warhol cult star Kier, and Brad Dourif’s Uncle Ted, proprietor of the OK Corral Ostrich Farm and a man with a healthy fear of Greek plays and the nation that made them (“I had to lock my sheep up at night, they got so nervous,” he reminisces darkly of a Greek neighbour), are all slyly entertaining.

Herzog’s is a crepuscular California, shot in high contrast, showing bleached light or the black recesses of old people’s homes at midday. He also returns to the Peruvian jungle where he infamously trekked for both Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo, and Brad has his epiphany after abandoning his friends to a foolish kayaking trip where they all die. We also glimpse Tijuana’s seething borderland, Calgary’s weird glass corridors, and staring Mongolian peasantry, frustrating fragments of Herzog films that never were. The shot of Shannon’s Brad leaning his head far back on a rock, as Peru’s most deadly river rushes muddily behind him, is the most powerful in a finally slight though memorable film. Herzog the reborn fiction-maker remains a documentarian at heart.

Watch the My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done trailer

Despite Lynch’s involvement, this isn’t one of his broken, impenetrable puzzles but a perfectly explicable story

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