My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done

Year 2009

Michael Shannon   as Brad McCullum
Chloë Sevigny as  Indgrid
Willem Dafoe   as Det. Hank Havenhurst  
Grace Zabriskie as  Mrs. McCullum
Udo Kier as Lee Meyers
Brad Dourif as  Uncle Ted
Director - Werner Nerzog
Screenwriters - Werner Nerzog
  - Herbert Golder

The movie My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is an attempt to show the state of mind of one particular man when he commits matricide. The story is based on events of Mark Yavorsky, a southern California man who, on June 10, 1979, killed his mother with an antique saber. Mark's murder mimicked the events of the Greek tragedy Orestes.

I've heard about Werner Herzog for a while. First as the best friend of "eccentric" actor Klaus Kinski who was his own god. I've heard that the movie Fitzcarraldo, the story about a man wanting to construct a rubber plantation in the wilds of South America (he even moved a steamship over a mountain as part of his plan) was slow, nearly surreal, filled with symbolism, but ultimately worth the viewing. I've heard those same descriptions associated with nearly all of Herzog's films. It's always long, slow, surreal, metaphorical but worth the effort. Unsure of whether I wanted to make the investment, I've avoided Herzog's movies. But when I saw Lynch and Herzog both associated with a film with a reasonable running time, I had to watch it.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is slow and probably filled with symbolism. It's also poorly acted. Considering that his movie is based on a truth, I expected something original in the viewpoint. Instead, I got the pedestrain, "He heard voices," and, "God lives in a Quaker Oats container."

There aren't many original scene interpretations. At least the way the events were presented didn't make them seem all that unique or original. Brad McCullum (Shannon) goes to Peru on a white water kayaking trip. He decides not to actually kayak because voices in his head told him that it's too dangerous. His friends brave the rapids anyway and are all killed. Really? All five of them? Isn't this a higher death toll than Deliverance? This specious nature story is ignored by the movie.

Instead, the screenwriter focuses on the fact that Brad comes home a changed man. The writer and director don't show how he's different. The pre and post trip versions of Brad are identical to me. Ever since the river trip, though, he takes his voices seriously. It's not entirely clear what they are saying to him, however. One is example of their effect on him is shown when he tries acting in the play Orestes. The voices sabotage his performance, so he's replaced.

This turns out to be touchstone event and Brad now starts suffering from melancholy and rejection and penultimately slips into depression. His fiancée sticks with him, though. If I was hearing voices and showing people where God lived in my kitchen, I don't think I'd have a fiancée. But then, I don't live in California.

The imagery is notable. Herzog gets carried away with it sometimes. There's a scene where Brad and Uncle Ted (Dourif) stand next to each in front of an hill outcropping. Atop the rock is a midget in a tuxedo. It's an unusual and arresting scene. Herzog must've liked it, too, because the actors hold a still pose for about a minute. You can tell it's a pose because sometimes the actors blink their eyes. Herzog does this a few times in the movie. Brad thinks that time slows down or stops sometimes, so maybe the effect is an attempt by Herzog to let the viewer see things from Brad's eyes. Or maybe Herzog just liked showing off his ability to compose a shot.

Brad's issues didn't just come from some trip to Peru. They'd been building his whole life. Herzog ignores the rest of Brad's life. When the movie ends, there's no revelation, no pathos, and little cohesion. It's a different kind of movie and you have to wonder why Herzog chose the scenes he did. You also have to wonder why many of them depicting seemingly trivial events went on as long as they did.

Willam Dafoe is in the movie, but he doesn't do much. He's not even a good locus for events. He's just a cop asking questions.

There is some profanity and blasphemy and no nudity. Unless you are already a fan of Herzog, pass it by.

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