Friday, November 5, 2010

My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done? (2010)


Title: My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done (2009)

Director: Werner Herzog

Cast: Michael Shannon, Willem Defoe, Brad Dourif, Chloe Sevigny, Grace Zabriskie, Udo Kier

Review:

“Produced by David Lynch, Directed by Werner Herzog” where the only words I needed to read from the box at the video store. I immediately snatched this movie up, I knew I was up for something weird, bizarre, artistic. After all, these two legendary directors have always specialized in the strange and unusual through out their whole cinematic careers. So I immediately knew I was in for something interesting.


My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done is the story of Brad; a man who is near the brink of completely loosing it. And by loosing it I mean going absolutely bonkers. This guy isn’t ‘loosing it’ in the allegorical sense of the world. Nope, this guy is really going crazy! Brad is the quintessential underachiever; both he and his girlfriend are living with his mother, with no plans of moving out any time soon. His mother is driving him crazy. She’s the kind of mother who still treats her full grown son like a 12 year old. In an attempt to find some meaning to his life, Brad enlists in a drama class. Unfortunately, drama class only fuels his hatred for everything, and gives him ideas on how to go about murdering his own mother. Based on a real life story!

The Man, the myth, the legend, Werner Herzog

“Sometimes truth is stranger then fiction” this is a phrase that can aptly be used to describe the films of director Werner Herzog. Herzog has always been a director who enjoys blurring the lines between reality and fiction in his films. He looks for real life stories that are amazing, and then turns them into a film or a documentary. Or both. This was the case with the story of Dieter Dengler, a man who survived the horrors of war and lived to tell the tale. Herzog found the story so interesting that he made a documentary about it called Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997). Years later, Herzog made the film version of that story called Red Dawn (2006) starring Steve Zahn and Christian Bale. But his documentaries aren’t entirely reality; they always have something of fiction in them in a way. Sometimes he uses visuals in his documentaries to manipulate the audiences’ perceptions of what they are seeing. And the same can be said of his films, sometimes they are based on real life stories, but they don’t stick one hundred percent to the real story that they are based on. This blurring of the lines between reality and fiction continues yet again with My Son, My Son, a film which according to Herzog himself is 70 percent false or loosely made up. So we are not getting the story behind Mark Yavorsky’s dementia 100%. It’s a film loosely based on his life.


Mark Yovorsky is a man who murdered his own mother with a sword, he did time in jail for his crime, and now he is out. The writer of this film Herbert Golder had been interested in developing this story into a feature film for many years, interviewing Yovorsky, gathering information and finally, contacting Herzog himself so he could direct the film. Herzog agreed to make the film and at one point decided to visit Yavorsky’s trailer home, just so he could get a more realistic background for the character. Funny thing is that even though Herzog is known for making films filled with weird characters and situations, he was actually freaked out by the real life Yavorsky! He walked into the guys trailer home, and immediately decided to leave, he said to himself that being there just didn’t feel right. The guy freaked Herzog out, that’s how you know the guy has got to be crazy as hell! I mean, if you freak Herzog out, you know there’s something wrong with ya.


So anyhow, in the film, Mark Yavorsky is played by Michael Shannon who seems to be the current go to guy if you want a nutcase in your movie. Check out his performance in Revolutionary Road (2008) to see what I mean. But his performance on My Son, My Son is his most demented yet. He plays a guy who is really disconnected from society; an outcast. Brad is the kind of guy who hates everything he sees in the world, and therefore is always angry or upset. He goes into sudden bursts of anger and violence. He is preoccupied with the existence of god and with religion. He is definitely portrayed as a character whose mind has been distorted and corroded by Christianity. His questioning of reality, and god and the meaning of it all, has driven him to insanity. Shannon does a memorable performance, makes one think of those demented performances that Klaus Kinski used to do for Herzog. One has to wonder how Klaus Kinski would have played this role had he been alive and in his prime.

The definition of a disfunctional family

But Michael Shannon is no stranger to Herzog’s brand of bizarre cinema; he had worked previously with Herzog on Bad Lieutent: Port of Call New Orleans (2009). He isn’t the only Herzog regular on My Son, My Son. This film is filled with many Herzog and Lynch regulars. We have Brad Dourif (who has collaborated with Herzog on three occasions) playing Brads demented homophobic uncle. Dourif’s character lets us see just why Brad is so crazy, I mean with family members like these, who wouldn’t go nuts? The same can be said for Grace Zabriskie who plays Brad’s mom. She freaked me out in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990) and Inland Empire (2006) her effect on this movie is pretty much the same. She still freaks me the hell out! The film is filled with a who’s who of eccentric character actors. Lot’s of odd looking faces. Both Lynch and Herzog enjoy using actors with odd features, which is why we get so many of them on this film. They united forces and gathered strange looking individuals from both of their usual gang of actors. As a result we get Willem Defoe (who’d collaborated with Lynch on Wild at Heart) and Chloe Sevigny, who is no stranger to bizarre cinema. Don’t believe me check her out in Gummo (1997). It’s no surprise she is known as the “queen of independent cinema”. We even have Udo Kier on this movie!


I have always liked Herzog’s attitude towards filmmaking. He doesn’t seem to believe in huge budgets and big stars. Actually, part of Lynch’s and Herzog’s attitude with this project was to make a “return to essential filmmaking”. Filmmaking that focuses on story, performances, and on saying something. Not on how big a budget is, or what big Hollywood star is in it. Both directors aimed to work with a low budget while still producing a high quality film. And I have to say they achieved it. Herzog has never been a director one would associate with horror films, I mean, the closest he ever got to that was when he made his Nosferatu (1979) remake. But with My son, My son, Herzog has made what he calls himself “a horror film without the gore, the chainsaws or the gore” and here comes the good part: “but with a strange anonymous fear creeping up on you” Amen to that Herzog! Amen to that!

Rating: 4 out of 5



My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?Revolutionary RoadGummoBad Lieutenant: Port of Call New OrleansBad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans [Blu-ray]

4 comments:

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

As you know I'm a firm supporter of the cinema of Werner Herzog. He is in all likelihood my favourite filmmaker, and like you I was eager to see a film in which the names Herzog and Lynch were attached too. But this film is awful. It is incredibly boring and pretentious. I found nothing in it of value or interest. It is self indulgent and the surrealism and weirdness is forced and obvious. I wonder how many people will acclaim this because they feel they must due to the filmmakers attached to it. A terrible mistep for Herzog. The next time Lynch suggests a collaboration he should tell him clear off.

Neil Fulwood said...

I was frustrated that this never saw the inside of a cinema anywhere near my home town. I think it's just about to come out on DVD in the UK, and I'm certainly going to be picking up a copy, but I'm starting to read a lot of very divisive reviews. Still, it'll be interesting to make up my own mind about it.

Francisco - any thoughts on a Film Connoisseur/Agitation of the Mind collaboration? I watched a whole batch of John Carpenter films over the Halloween weekend (hence my review of 'They Live' a couple of days ago) and one of the DVDs had an interview with Carpenter in which he said he has a real problem with authority and if he ever gets the chance to be subversive or anti-authoritarian in his films, he goes for it! You can definitely see this in a character like Snake Plissken in 'Escape from New York'.

How about we do a collaborative month, maybe January of next year, on subversive and anti-authoritarian films: any movies that have anti-heroes, rebels or people up against the system. I think it would be interesting if we each made a list of, say, 10 movies which fit the bill, then post each review on a certain date (maybe every three days during the month) and, without knowing what was on each other's list, see how many points of comparison there are.

Let me know what you think.

Bob Ignizio said...

Just watched this on the Netflix "instant view" tonight. I'm with you, I thought it was pretty good. Definitely not Herzog's best, but a solid film nonetheless.

So many films about killers try to show what happened to make them that way. Herzog shows us the backstory of his killer, but ultimately seems to be saying there is no explanation. Not even the religious issues you mention seem like a valid "reason" for Brad going off the deep end. He was just crazy. Vary much in keeping with Herzog's usual view of the world as a cruel and unfair place with no real "reasons" behind what happens.

I also thought the relationship between Kier and Shannon in this film was interesting. It seems to reflect the Herzog/Kinksi relationship at least a little bit.

Gotta' disagree with Shaun about the pretentiousness comment. I thought this was pretty straight forward, actually. I wouldn't elevate it to the level of Herzog's best work, but it's still a solid film. And as for Lynch, I doubt he had much to do with this beyond getting a few of the actors on board and helping with the financing. Werner isn't the kind of guy to capitulate to any producer, even if that producer is David Lynch.

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Shaun: I liked it, I enjoyed the weird vibe it had going, and Michael Shannon's performance. I found it interesting because I know there are people like this in the world, they detach from society, hate everything, until, little by little, they snap! I thought the film captured that rather well, Shannon's character simply makes one feel uncomfortable, awkward. I loved how Herzog captured that vibe.

But yeah, Im actually surprised you didn't like it Shaun, since you love Herzog so much. Im a big HErzog enthusiast as well, but I've only seen one film of his I didn't enjoy and that was Kasper Hauser. Wow, that was a tough watch!

@Neil: Yeah, this kind of film has a hard time making it to theaters, its just too different for mass consumption. But in the comfort of your own home you should have no problems enjoying it, especially if you enjoy Herzog films.

I mean, he has never been one to favor what the masses like. He's never been a director known for making commercial films.

Neil, I will send you an e-mail with an idea for a collaboration, its one I've had in mind for a while and it just so happens to go in line with your suggestions. I'll e-mail it to you on monday!

@Bob Ignizio: Agree, this movie went against what we would normally expect from this kind of movie. We know from the first minutes who the killer is, we know what he did, we know everything as soon as the movie takes off. It leaves you wondering, if I already know everything, where is this movie going to go? And thats what makes it different.

Totally agree about the relationship between Shannon and Kier's characters. It seems to me that ever since Kinsky passed away, Herzog has been collaborating with actors that can display equal amounts of craziness on their performances, same as Kiski did. I mean, Shannon, Dourif, Cage...Kier...

I didn't think it was pretentious either, I thought it was what it was, a movie about a guy going crazy and antisocial. Agree, not Herzogs best, but not his worst either. Certainly not a bad film. It had that bizarre aura to it. I mean, hows about that scene where he finds god in the oatmeal? Or that scene where he puts that radio out on the front of the house and the song playing is religious in nature?

Actually, that song and what it says is one of the things that lets us know one of the man themes that drives the film: the song is all about a person without education being good for only one thing: serving the church, serving god. The character was obsessed with god.

As far as the Herzog/Lynch collaboration, I read that they both agreed on making a movie with little money, and forgetting about the studio way of making a film, and worry about simply making a good one. Yeah, Im sure all Lynch did was get a couple of his actors to come on board, and get the money to make it, I bet many filmmakers wish that more producers were like that.

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