My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done
12 September 2010
Part two of a Saturday of Black Comedy Session, this David Lynch-presented, Werner Herzog-directed, Michael Shannon, Udo Kier, Willem Dafoe and Chloe Sevigny-starring oddity is bonkers. It is so bemusingly weird that it makes Herzog’s previous Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans look conventional. It is a police thriller, whose thrills last for about 2 minutes. And its subtle change of tone will either leave you in awe or make you scream to high heavens for wasting your time on this. Me - I was somewhere in the middle, leaning more towards the awe-inspired kind.
Based loosely on a real-life event, where a young actor tries to kill his mother with a sword after taking his role of Orestes in a stage adaptation of Electra a little too seriously, Herzog’s film manages oh-so-well to avoid the obvious causal leap from acting Orestes on stage to acting Orestes in real life. The play itself and the sword play some part in the film’s plot, but it is a complement and not the focal point.
Brad McCallum (Shannon) has just killed his mother with a rusty sword at her neighbour’s house across the street. Detective Hank Havenhurst (a coffee-appreciating Dafoe - the most hilarious in-joke of the film) is told at the scene that the suspect is at his home with two hostages. Police lay siege to the flamingo-themed house on the hills of San Diego, while McCallum’s fiance (Sevigny) and the director of the aforementioned play (Kier) recite the events that lead up to this point. Dafoe’s detective, in a moment of forced irony and pure desperation, begs for them to enlighten him of the situation “because it doesn’t make any sense.” Yes, he is talking about the film.
Brad sees god in a can of oatmeal, devil in the eyes of an ostrich, and companionship in two flamingos. He has been acting weird ever since a rafting trip to Peru, where his friends all died at an expedition he wouldn’t partake in (unlike Fizcarraldo, Brad wouldn’t dare take on the river). Upon his return he starts calling himself Farouk and talking about spreading the word of god. He reminsces his days of playing basketball in high school in the middle of rehearsals for the play. Something is not right about him.
His fiance (beautifully named Ingrid Goodmanson) faithfully sticks with him and bears his overbearing mother. Ah, yes. The Mother. It would have been really easy to go all oedipal on their relationship, but thankfully Herzog paints a much more subtle picture. In fact, the Mother seems to be the only person to see what is wrong with her son, but is unable to stop him. Not that she really tries, though. She defines the word “overbearing” and adds a few more dimensions of weirdness to the whole relationship. It’s quite disturbing really.
The problem, though, is that this dry-as-sand humour is not kept consistent throughout. There is a shift (and I don’t know when it happens), but the film becomes increasingly morbid. Maybe the jokes or the situation became too familiar that it stopped being interesting. But, by the end, you just want it all to end already.
Quite why Michael Shannon is not in every film that is being made right now is beyond me: the man just keeps getting better and better. Herzog himself is also on a roll of films that are weirder than the previous one and are consistently good. With Brad Dourif, who plays Brad’s racist ostrich-farmer uncle, he may have found his new Kinski and let’s hope the collaboration continues for some time.