My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? (**)
September 22, 2010 3 Comments
What do you get when you get master visionary David Lynch producing a film by filmmaking maverick Werner Herzog? You get the 2009 film My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, a film inspired by the true story of deranged Mark Yavorsky, a talented actor who was so inspired by Aeschylus‘s Oresteia that he stabbed and killed his own mother. Though the film (now finally out on DVD) is based on this horrific real-life event, Herzog takes much poetic license with it and, along with co-writer Herbert Golder, decided to create their own portrait of this delusional man (who was later found “not guilty by reason of insanity”) and Herzog even states that “about 70% of the script” is loosely made up.
Golder, a classics scholar, was fascinated by the subject years ago and began a relationship with the killer, Mark Yavorsky (who was living in a trailer at the time), writing a screenplay in the process. Herzog was intrigued by the story and though several lines in the movie are taken directly from the files surrounding his case, they made the conscious decision not to connect much to the real Yavorsky, but instead focus on the poetry of Yavorsky’s madness rather than the clinical facts. All sounds for a very intriguing and interesting movie, right? We have Lynch…Herzog….a psychotic killer who is so removed from reality that he slays his own mother with a special, antique sword. Great! Overall though, it is quite a disappointment despite some rather captivating moments in small doses.
Michael Shannon plays the deeply disturbed Brad McCullum (his name changed here) and the film opens with the police being called to the scene of the dead body of McCullum’s mother. The rest of the narration jumps back and forth between the scene of the murder and the “hostage situation” taking place and recent events in Brad’s life that have led to this most unfathomable of murders. The detective in charge (the dynamic Willem Dafoe) tries his best to take control of the situation and in doing so, learns bits and pieces about his prime suspect from his fiancé (Chloe Sevigny) and the man who was directing him in The Orestia, Lee Meyers (Udo Kier). There are bits and pieces of bizarre and surrealistic Herzog-ian moments thrown about, and yes, some that did remind me of David Lynch, and the pace is typically very deliberate.
Dafoe doesn’t really get much to do at all except gather information and seem somewhat helpless at times. Michael Pena (who plays his partner) is given even less to do and I am still not sure why he was cast here. Udo Kier does a fine job and stands out, showing great sympathy and a tremendous curiosity about his troubled actor throughout. Sevigny is well cast here; she usually bothers me, but here, it wasn’t so much her performance that troubled me, but why this woman was planning on marrying this nut-job within a month’s time to begin with that left me scratching my head. We are given no signs or reasons to suggest any love that this woman might have for him. The flashbacks between the two mainly show him making her feel ill at ease and perhaps a danger to her. So I wish that was explained in some detail, or at least give us a glimpse of this guy’s cute-and-fuzzy side, ya know? The wonderful veteran actress, Grace Zabriskie is outstanding as McCullum’s terrifyingly doting mother. She is right out of Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart here and fits perfectly in Herzog’s exploration. The mother-son relationship is touched upon and we do see glimpses of a love/hate relationship (as a middle-aged man, he is still living with her), but I wanted to see more between the two. I have only seen Michael Shannon steal scenes in smaller, supporting roles in the past, but he is the center of it all here and carries the film quite nicely. As we saw in Revolutionary Road, Shannon can play these disturbed characters quite well, though here there is more of an element of danger, darkness and unpredictability. He is a true paranoid, feeling the whole world is against him. We don’t know what he will do or say next and when he tells a neighbor to kill him (“Kill me now before it happens”), we feel that this character simply cannot help himself and is being forced by something bigger than him.
The performances are fine. I had a problem with the approach and felt that they should have perhaps connect more with the real-life story. I would say that unless you are a great fan of the daring and stylistic films of David Lynch (who had little-to-no creative input, but was the catalyst for getting this project off the ground) or Werner Herzog, stay away from this film. Even then, I’m not so sure how many will think highly of this particular effort. I am a tremendous and loyal fan of both and I couldn’t help but feel somewhat let down.