Monday, December 21, 2009

Film Review: MY SON, MY SON, WHAT HAVE YE DONE? (2009, Werner Herzog)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Michael Shannon, Willem Dafoe, Brad Dourif, Grace Zabriskie, Udo Kier, Chloë Sevigny, Verne Troyer, Irma P. Hall. Presented by David Lynch. Shot by Peter Zeitlinger.
Tag-line: "The mystery isn't who... but why?"
Best one-liner: "Razzle... dazzle..."

You could say that this is a portrait of an obsessed, delusional figure; or, you could say this is a vehicle for Brad Dourif to talk about a behemoth (pronounced as "ba-hay-muth") chicken; and you'd be right on both counts. It's comedy, it's tragedy, it's Herzog. David Lynch is the executive producer, so there's been a lot of talk of "poor man's Lynch," and "weirdness for its own sake," and so on. Herzog has said that he and Lynch are kindred spirits: while their films to not 'speak' to one another exactly, they have 'danced' with one another. Lynch was instrumental to this project only so far as he paired director, producer, and casting- he had no creative input. In Lynch's honor, Herzog made an homage or two (a man on a treadmill has an oxygen mask), but before you mention 'Lynch's shadow,' know that Herzog was making movies about little people 20 years before TWIN PEAKS.

MY SON, MY SON... is a brilliant film, and one which is pure, unadulterated Werner.

The peculiarities of the film's characters do not exist as empty quirk, as some have criticized, they represent the victory of humanity in the face of nature's indifference.

Mental illness, misfiring synapses, bad chemicals- these are the base and vile weapons of a cruel universe. Madness is almost a rational retort to the insane stimuli served up by fate, God, the cosmos, whatever you want to call it. Owning a Razzle Dazzle mug, transforming your home into the flamingo and cactus-infused equivalent of Pee-Wee's Playhouse:

fixing up a vat of black Jell-O, seeing God in a tube of oatmeal:

abandoning a basketball in a tree:

these are humanity's ways, however twisted or trivial, of combating the impassivity: of leaving our mark on the world, no matter how insignificant it may seem. A man's schizophrenic notion (that the entire world is scrutinizing him) is transformed by Herzog into a meditation on interesting faces in a Peruvian marketplace. Peter Zeitlinger's (Herzog's primary DP since the 90's) camera roves and roams and dashes and flutters about this film like some twitterpated bird- it views the world through an innocent, excitable kino-eye.

And if BAD LIEUTENANT is Herzog's 'lizard' movie, then it must be said that MY SON, MY SON is for the birds- or should I say "dinosaurs in drag?" (a fact that Udo Kier learns quite unexpectedly when an ostrich schlerps on his spectacles).


Shannon and Uncle Ted (Brad Dourif) look on.

The performances are astounding, too- Michael Shannon's piercing frustration:

Grace Zabriskie's terrifyingly doting mother:

Willem Dafoe's considerate cop trying to put the pieces together:

Udo Kier's Euro-theater director who's having none of your sports analogies, and Dourif's grimy Uncle Ted ["The only thing Greeks know how to play with is each other's balls!"].

This is a magnificent film, and one that ends with an ambiguous image viewed first by who Herzog would call a "perpetual tourist" and then by who he'd call a "citizen of the world." This movie was made for the latter.

-Sean Gill

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