MY SON, MY SON WHAT HAVE YE DONE
So, here we have it, the first collaboration of two of cinema’s strangest director’s, Werner Herzog and David Lynch. Surely this is a recipe for success? I will admit to be slightly sceptical about the whole thing after reading some average reviews; none really sung it’s praises loud and actually sold the film. So I went into this not really expecting much, and often this can be the best way because you just might be pleasantly surprised. My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done did just that and I found the film to be an exceptional work of art, a work of genius in places and anyone who likes films a bit on the bizarre side will love what delights this little oddity has to offer.
Werner Herzog is the director, and Lynch the producer but this film has Lynch’s stamp all over it, you can almost see his footprint for Christ’s sake! Herzog has done a fantastic job in directing, clearly under the influence of the God-like Lynch and it would seem Herzog may have actually been attempting to do his own Lynchian film! It works wonders here, and the two directors have assembled a near perfect cast to pull off their master plan. We have the brilliance of Willem Dafoe, the ultimate indie chick Chloe Sevigny, Brad Douriff (who lights up any film) and a truly outstanding, mesmerizing and utterly compelling Michael Shannon. Michael plays Brad, the main character in this bizarre story that is based on actual events. Watching the film, it is rather unsettling to think this actually happened, so here we go with the plot.
To sum it up quickly, Brad has been off travelling with some friends, has gone a bit mad along the way, has come home believing he is possibly a healer of some kind, or of some higher power than others, takes part in a Greek play based on the story of Orestes, becomes obsessed with it and decides to kill his Mother. Now, you may think I have ruined the film for you, but I haven’t. You know he has killed his Mother from the beginning, this film is more a tale of tragedy, much like the Greek story, as the events unfold (in flashback) as to how Brad ended up in such a bad way. The film begins with detective Hank Havenhurst (Dafoe) and his eager to please detective Vargas driving around having a good ol’ chat about being cops. They get the call to go to a murder scene, and get there to find an old lady brutally stabbed with a long sword and the occupants (a very nervous black woman and her Mother) a bit freaked. The neighbours have all come out in this very simple looking suburban street and some bizarre, long haired man in a dressing gown has just walked past them, shown them his coffee cup and said “razzle, dazzle”. Say hello to Brad!
The detectives are told Brad killed his Mother and soon set up a barricade outside his house which is opposite. Now, the reason for this is that he loved his Mother dearly and when buying a house with his fiancée Ingrid (Sevigny) Brad did not want to be too far away from his Mum. Dafoe oozes quality and, for some reason, utter weirdness in his role. He is a detective, the most normal character, and yet he is hypnotically odd. He doesn’t really do much, and moves around the screen as if God is about to strike him down. His partner, detective Vargas, is sycophantic and really strange, almost like a puppy trying to get all the attention. Let me remind you that these two are supposed to be the most normal, rational thinking characters. Brad refuses to come out, and spends the early moments shouting, and rolling out tins of oats! To give you an insight as to the kind of man Brad is, he has two pet flamingos, which he says are eagles in drag! His wife is called to the scene, by him, as is the director of the Greek play. Both then fill in the detectives as to what may have caused him to finally crack.
After his trip away, Brad became unstable. Not willing to go white water rafting with his friends, he seemed to start believing he had a more important role to play in this life. He takes part in this Greek play and the story, along with his new state of mind, has literally turned him into a man who truly believes he has a higher purpose. To really get to understand exactly what he was thinking, I need to watch this film again as it’s extremely deep and will really get you thinking. I was never quite sure of Brad’s intentions, or what he believed he was doing. In one fascinating scene, he goes to a military hospital to “visit the sick in general” and he attempts to buy everyone pillows from the gift shop. After being thrown out, he later leaves his basketball in a tree by the side of a motorway in the hope that the next big star of basketball will find it. He seems to want to do good, to help people, but just doesn’t know how to do it normally. Ingrid reluctantly sticks by him as he deteriorates into a mess. The Greek play really gets him going, and listening to the story of Orestes and how he had to kill his Mother to save people causes the terrible events. He becomes obsessed to the point even the director wants him out of the play. Michael Shannon’s performance is stunning and unforgettable and you will find it very hard to take your eyes off him. Yes there are moments of utter terror as you stare into his eyes, but thankfully there are also moments of brilliant comedy to lighten the mood. He is a truly fascinating character and one you will remember for a long long time.
Brad Dourif makes his appearance as Brad’s uncle, who runs a turkey farm, and his brief, yet brilliant cameo really lifts the film both to weird heights and to classic heights. He doesn’t really do anything, but what he says in his brief moments are fantastic, and his expressions are priceless. He shares a very bizarre scene with his nephew as they talk weird stuff about how the smallest person can be bigger than you and I think something about a horse, it’s all very strange and then the two stand almost motionless in the woods and a dwarf stands behind them on a tree stump. The dwarf is higher than them and the camera just pauses, watching them as they stare uncomfortably back at you.
One of many scenes like this that shout originality and oddity at the viewer. The film is littered with these moments of brilliance, genius and bizarreness. You will find yourself quite often questioning what the hell it all means, and you will struggle to find any answers. Like I said before, this is a deep film and Lynch and Herzog have delved deep into the mind of a crazy person, and used their unique skill to make them look even more crazy. These almost slow motion like scenes happen on a number of occasions. One brilliant scene is when all the police are outside Brad’s house and for no apparent reason, the camera pans around everyone, like a slow motion bullet time, but here the actors haven’t been paused, they just aren’t moving. It’s refreshing to see someone shaking because their arm has been in the air too long, or blinking, it gives the whole thing a surreal edge. Surreal: that is the key word to this whole project. It feels otherworldly, a simple police standoff movie has be elevated to new and crazy heights by two of the most original director’s working in the movies today.It’s all shot in daylight, which gives the whole thing an uneasy edge and feel. The comfort of daylight is robbed by the events unfolding. The music is shockingly strange and deliberate, barely stopping at times and adding a real feeling of claustrophobia and panic with its brutal and haunting atmosphere. It builds to almost unbearable heights and sheer terror and makes a simple scene of Brad just staring at a river one of the most terrifying things you will see all year. My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done is a superb film, and one I have barely scratched the surface of here. It’s intense, it’s clever and everything here is done for a reason. It may require a few viewings to work this out or maybe there is nothing to work out and we have to accept the fact that some people can, in so many words, just lose it. It’s a story that is involving and interesting, with characters that are bizarre but totally likeable. You will enjoy this for its basking in the glory of all things weird and surreal, and the film plays to its strengths in more ways than you could hope for. The cast are all superb and help take you into this odd little place where something truly out of the ordinary happened. It’s a film to get you thinking, it’s a film to fall in love with, it’s a film that draws you in so deep at times it’s hard to get out, and it’s a film that is totally and fantastically unforgettable.