Meanwhile, back in left field...

Werner Herzog makes a movie about a crazy guy who killed his mother because he was obsessed with a Greek play about a guy who kills his mother. In a bizarre twist, David Lynch has barely anything to do with any of it other than money and well wishes.

My Son, My Son, What have Ye Done?” (2009)
directed by Werner Herzog
written by Herbert Golder and Werner Herzog
starring Michael Shannon and Willem Dafoe

How Is It?
This film is half an attempt cinéma vérité, half a screenwriter and a director trying to show how 'ordinary' people deal with the psychologically declining and the unhinged. At least that's the impression I got from it. It's well done but comes across sometimes like it's trying too hard to be out of the ordinary.

The Players
Michael Shannon is intense as intense can be as Brad McCallum. Intensity is close to all Shannon can bring to bear in all but a couple of scenes in the film. The rest of the time the things going on in poor Brad's head don't have an outlet beyond a leer or thousand yard stare followed by non sequiturs or barely relevant comments leading into something beyond the fringe. Shannon does well with what looks a very limited and limiting character, not to mention a character who doesn't come across much as either sympathetic or even likeable.

Willem Dafoe is Detective Havenhurst, the guy tasked with making sense of the murder scene he's driving to at the beginning on the film. He's the character asking the questions that lead us into the various narratives. It really isn't all that much of a role in the film, however critical it is, but Dafoe makes Havenhurst someone we as an audience can get behind and want to see succeed in his task: solving and making sense of the case.

Udo Kier and Brad Dourif appear as well, both welcome colorful additions to any film.

Behind the Camera
Honestly, it's hard to tell what was scripted and what may have been improvised. The script has a premise, an inciting incident, exposition and build, and a conclusion. Most of what happens makes sense, and some of it is a bit strange, though in no way unrecognizable or nonsensical, only strange. The story progresses in a pretty straightforward way, zigzagging along as Detective Havenhurst hears from Brad's friends and witnesses to the murder. It's just that Brad doesn't make much sense, and it's left to the viewer to piece things together as per their own notions, beliefs, and desires. There's a discernible story, and it's interesting. The script just seems to misfire quite a bit in its effort to portray “the poetry of madness”.

There's not a lot to say about the director. Werner Herzog can improvise directing a film better than most directors can with weeks of pre-production and a crew twice the size. Herzog made a movie with natural lighting and sound and a minimal crew, most of it near the real-life location of the murder about which the film is based. It's a technically very effective and well made film, though there's a little in it that seems less vérité and more staged for quirkiness.

The Verdict
Oddly enough, once you get to the end of the film, it doesn't feel complete. The ending of the film is non-ending itself, in a way, but that's not the problem. It's that by the end of it all it still feels like something was missing along the way. Golder and Herzog were aiming to show a man's madness and its impact on others and their reaction to it, but it comes out muddled. It's interesting but not really engaging, which not only describes the film but also the central character, and so it winds up more an exercise in cinema craft and interestingness than anything.

Film nerds and connoisseurs of the offbeat, “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?” is for you.

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