My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? (15.)
Directed by Werner Herzog.
Starring Michael Shannon, Willem Defoe, Chloe Sevigny, Grace Zabriskie, Udo Kier, Michael Pena. 93 mins
When the credits open with “David Lynch Presents A Werner Herzog Film,” continue with a cast list including many actors famed for their appearances in bizarre offbeat roles and culminate with “And Brad Dourif as Uncle Ted,” you fear that this might be a case of too many nutjobs spoiling the broth.
Lynch is only the executive producer which doesn’t usually suggest much influence but the film does play out as a tug of love between the two. The film opens with two cops, Dafoe and Pena, driving along getting the call to visit a murder scene and its pure Lynch. Eight minutes in the scene suddenly shifts to the remote Peruvian forest a location that is quintessential Herzog.
Indeed it is as if Herzog has taken on the challenge of making his own film using the vocabulary of another director. It is full of all those little Lynch trademarks – damn fine coffee, short people, etc but treated with that odd distant disdain that Herzog always brings. (Though the rather duff title, which sounds like the exasperated chant of medieval football fan, is very Herzog.)
What ye son has done is killed his mum. Brad (Shannon) has run her through with a knife and is now involved in a hostage situation in the suburban Los Angeles home they shared. His fiancé (Sevigny) turns up and you wonder what she would be doing with such an obviously crazy bloke who cries out of one eye and is constantly seeking out the divine. But then she explains that they were actors in a production of a Greek drama and it all becomes instantly credible.
It is based on a true story and this is actually a very straightforward tale of ordinary madness. Shannon is compelling and credible in the main role. For all the film’s outlandish touches Brad seems to be suffering from an all too believable form of mental illness. His theatre director (Kier) initially interprets this as great artistry before eventually finding him just too difficult to handle.
Despite its many absurd moments I suspect many fans of Lynch or Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant will finds this a little too meandering and solemn to enjoy but it is a fascinating experiment. Herzog’s career is travelling the world finding things to be underwhelmed by. This time he’s stayed close to his LA home to make a David Lynch film about the failings of David Lynch films. The mentally ill aren’t seers or visionaries they are just ill and the film seems to be suggesting how art has sustained and formularised insane behaviour down the ages.