My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is definitely a film for fans of the auteur theory; those that love picking apart the work of unique directors like the two men whose fingerprints are so clearly on this bizarre hybrid – directors Werner Herzog and producer David Lynch. Those of you not just familiar but well-versed in the films of these two legendary filmmakers will find a lot to dissect about this match made in indie movie heaven, but it is certainly not for everyone. How does one judge a film that virtually demands you know the previous work of its collaborators to enjoy it? There are elements of My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done that work but they do so almost entirely in the context of the filmographies of the men who made it and only very slightly even in that light. Consequently, it's more of a curiosity than an actual film and barely even works as that. For hardcore Lynch or Herzog fans only and even they should be prepared for something of a disappointment.
Very loosely based on a true story, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is yet another Herzog tale of a man forever changed by a force of nature, but this time the nature follows him home into a Lynch-ian view of the west coast of the United States. Brad (Michael Shannon) returns from a trip to Peru (a common setting for Herzog films) a completely changed man. He was with a party of travelers who came upon a raging river and Brad chose not to try and tame Mother Nature. His fellow men ignored his "listening to the river" and perished and Brad came back a completely different guy. And not in a PTSD movie way but in a way inspired by a producer who wrote Mulholland Drive with conversations with Brad Dourif about ostriches, midgets, and Udo Kier.
A year later, he stabbed his mother (Grace Zabriskie) with a sword that he had been using as a prop in a play. Herzog's co-written screenplay interweaves the moments after the stabbing in which a few detectives (Willem Dafoe and Michael Pena) try to talk Brad out of a dangerous hostage situation and the months leading up to the event. Brad has a seemingly normal girlfriend (Chloe Sevigny) and the director (Kier) of the tragic play he was working on plays a major role in his mental unraveling. Of course, with Michael Shannon playing the lead and people like Kier, Dafoe, and Sevigny in the supporting cast, "sane" seems like a hard status to reach and a relative designation.
The problem is that like a lot of movies that are multiple things, they are also not quite enough of any one thing. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is an oddly cold experience given how easy it is to be passionate about Lynch and Herzog's best work. It starts with immense promise and the first half hour is interesting but then you can see Herzog spinning his wheels until the end. I just stopped caring at all what would happen next, which is rare for a film with the involvement of one of my favorite directors, much less two.
Rating: TWO BONES
Release Date: April 9th, 2010
Starring: Michael Shannon, Grace Zabriskie, Willem Dafoe, Chloe Sevigny, Loretta Devine, Irma P. Hall, Michael Pena, Brad Dourif, and Udo Kier
Director: Werner Herzog
Writers: Werner Herzog & Herbert Golder