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
“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