The UHF of the film world.
Latest news

Bob Doto [Celluloid 12.29.09] review horror drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Werner Herzog
Writers: Herbert Golder, Werner Herzog
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Bob Doto
Rating: 7.9 out of 10

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (hitherto called My Son) is a very strange little film. “Strange,” not in the sense of its content, but in the sense of its handling. “Little” in the sense of its simplicity. “Very” in the sense of I want you to see it.

My Son is a film loosely based on the life and criminal acts of Mark Yavorsky who one day walked across the street, took out a sword, and killed his mother. Then he walked home. And that was that. That’s the story. And that much we’re told within the first fifteen minutes of the film, so you can guess this work isn’t necessarily about plot development.

Herzog has referred to his approach to this film as “guerilla.” That’s apparent. The shots are angular and jarring, and yet at the same time beautiful and stylized. There’s a sense of careful carelessness, but nothing forced. And yet at the same time it’s also really forced. Truth be told, the film made me feel very weird. I felt displaced and slightly separated from my surroundings. When I left the theater I walked around the West Village for fifteen minutes looking for the perfect bottle of water in the freezing cold. Why? I have no idea. I wasn’t even thirsty. Even my rating of this film is slightly askew. Maybe it should be a nine. Maybe a four. I have no idea.

There’s something off about this film. Good-off. Off-good. In typical Herzog fashion Herzog handles film (the medium) as if the film itself, the “thing” of it all, were actually tangible matter. In his hands, the film as a whole becomes another character with its own psychology, its own baggage. So often was I aware of the camera, the lens, the eye, I just wanted to look away, but I couldn’t. My eyes (my I’s as well) were no longer my own. It was as if Herzog was dragging me around by my eyeballs forcing me to look at mundane scenes backlit with psychosis. With a pan to the right the film shouts at me to “Look here!” We stand staring for minutes. “Now look at this!” Again, we see actors shuffling about. “Turn around. Look over there!” All the while I’m trying to pull away and refocus. Maybe I want to have a passive movie experience, but Herzog won’t let me. I’m right there. I’m in it. It’s happening to me.

This is no “tour de force,” however. There’s nothing Requiem for a Dream about this film. It’s actually somewhat quaint, almost pedestrian. To this end Herzog takes brilliant actor/resses and lets them fumble their delivery over and over again just to remind you that we are watching actors act. This is not real.

Or is it?

You’re watching Willem Defoe as a cop and you’re asking yourself, “Has he ever acted before?” This would be slightly depressing if you didn’t find yourself asking the same question about Michael Shannon, Chloë Sevigny, and Grace Zabriskie, each of whom has the ability to give spot-on performances, (as they do here, just not in the way you’d expect) but in My Son they all end up pausing in awkward spots as if waiting for their lines to be read back to them, by you that is.

The so-called fourth wall? You can kiss that good-bye. At least two instances I wanted to look behind me and see who the actors were staring at. And then there’s the opening scene where the police have guns brandished surrounding Brad’s home just after he’s killed his mother and says that he is holding two hostages. Willem opens his hands wide Jesus-style (a motif used a number of times in the film in relation to Brad) and there’s this music in the background, and I actually thought Defoe was going to break into song. His pace and cadence synced with the music so well I actually thought that I was in store for a musical. I wasn’t. Or was I?

Reviews of My Son treat the film as if it’s supposed to feel coherent, as if the funny parts (and there are funny parts) are supposed to “work.” I suggest dropping all that. People remark about the ostriches and how non-sequitorial they are. As if ooooo that’s the craaaaazy part. No. The ostriches are just ostriches. What’s crazy is the jell-o. What’s crazy is the guy meditating, who’s clearly doing it “wrong” and you know Herzog knows this. What’s crazy is that the pace, tone, and color scheme match perfectly the experience of being slightly crazy (if you’ve ever had the displeasure of being so).

In the end, My Son is not a movie. It’s not really a film either. It’s more like…it’s more like a guy on the beach with a metal detector who walks over to you and says, “I found this. Is it yours?” And then he hands you your own skull.

You might also like

Leave a comment