A Minor Madness
In the same year that gave us Werner Herzog's The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call: New Orleans, the eccentric director also unveiled My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, centering on a man's descent into an insanity that would lead him to kill his mother with a sword.
As an entry into Herzog's oeuvre, this film is decidedly minor, a character piece as quiet as its central figure, one Brad McCullum, played by Michael Shannon. The version of madness displayed by Brad is not typically dramatic; it's mostly just strange, and dances the line bordering on goofiness. This is a guy who recites the words off of his coffee cup, sees the face of God on a container of oatmeal, and interrupts the instruction of his theater director (Udo Kier) with basketball stories. Frankly, it's absurd to the point where we can't really tell if Herzog means Brad to be menacing or funny -- and I would call this a weakness for the film, because even if Herzog means it to be both, the entirety of it plays off as somewhat contrived and mostly inconsequential.
Perhaps Herzog wants to demonstrate once again how there are no rules that truly govern human behavior -- man's potential for madness is unpredictable and reveals all our societal boundaries as arbitrary -- but he's shown this better in other films. Still, there are pieces to smile at here, from Brad Dourif's crazy old bigoted uncle part to Michael Peña's police detective getting constantly thwarted in his desires to see the hostage situation he's in develop more excitingly, like it does in other movies. Grace Zabriskie as the slain mother (most of the movie is flashbacks) gives us a tangible link to one of the film's executive producers, David Lynch (Zabriskie appeared in Inland Empire), and her very presence -- her face, her voice, her manners -- unnerves me in a very Lynchian way.
To be honest, I think Lynch could've taken this material and really made it creepy; but this is Herzog, who does more strange than creepy, and his brand of absurdity often has a lot of amusement attached to it. Alas, amusement might be the strongest emotion My Son, My Son can squeeze out of us.
(Released by First Look Studios and rated "R" for some language.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.