Werner Herzog is known for doing penetrating films, like his recent movies “The Grizzly Man” and “Rescue Dawn.” “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?” is no different. Using the tag-line “the mystery isn’t who, but why” Herzog explores a true crime where a young man stabbed his mother to death with a sword.
Brad McCullum, a local theater actor, goes about his normal routine one morning in Southern California when all of a sudden, he takes a sword and stabs his mother to death. Two police detectives, portrayed by Willem Dafoe and Michael Pena, are immediately called to the scene and try to talk McCullum, played by Michael Shannon, down so that they can arrest him. In doing so, the detectives interview witnesses and close friends and family, including McCullum’s fiance and his theater director. The film then takes audiences on a journey, exploring significant events throughout the previous year leading up to this fateful day in order to determine what could have possibly caused the young man to snap in such a manner. Viewers are taken to Peru, where Shannon spent a tragic vacation and to many different events in McCullum’s life, and while some questions are answered, many more are brought up.
Director David Lynch is famous for his bizarre and twisted vision, and he executive produces Herzog’s film. His inspiration and influence is quite obvious to viewers very quickly, and is present throughout the film. The entire movie is not really about the plot but about the journey of strangeness that the characters take audiences on. And the script fits this purpose perfectly. Written by Herzog himself and Herbert Golder, a man that has collaborated with Herzog in many ways on different projects, the screenplay is both smart and deranged. There are many moments that cause viewers to laugh uncomfortably as well as continue to wonder what causes people to unravel so completely. Michael Shannon’s portrayal of the odd, deteriorating man is compelling and perfect. No stranger to the portrayal of a troubled individual (ie, “Bug” and “Revolutionary Road”), Shannon draws audiences in further to the bizarre world created by the film and is simply the icing on the cake. Willem Dafoe, Chloe Sevigny, Brad Dourif, Udo Kier, and Grace Zabriskie all give exceptional support to Shannon’s performance, each adding their own unique quirks to the film.
Many of the crew members of the film have worked with Werner Herzog on several projects before, and thus, the film maintains the quality that the director is known for. The cinematography, done by Peter Zeitlinger, is as crisp as any previous Herzog film, as the director of photography has worked with Herzog on numerous projects, and the film has the feeling of being shot for a news report with the quality of a high budget film at the same time. The score further carries the freakishness of the film and is composed by Ernst Reijseger, another movie partner of Herzog’s. Thus, while the film is stranger than any of Herzog’s other masterpieces, it maintains the merit of all of his work.
Both strange and disturbing, “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?” takes viewers on a ride unlike most traditional films. The film is reminiscent of David Lynch movies, leaving audiences unsurprised that the master director attached his name to the project. Every element of the film works to promote the eccentricity of the people surrounding this true crime story and leaves audiences astounded. This movie is definitely a trip worth taking.