...what have you done indeed, Werner?
The first clue as to what lay in store for the viewer occurs in the opening frame; “David Lynch presents a film by Werner Herzog”. It's a little like reading “Gary Busey presents Mel Gibson and Andy Dick in Conversation, Music by Brittany Spears” - mad intriguing, but terrifying all the same. A cult producer, a cult director, and a cult cast (Michael Shannon, Willem Dafoe, Chloe Sevigny, Udo Kier, Grace Zabriskie, Michael Pena (not normally culty, but he is here), Loretta Devine, Irma P Hall, James C. Burns, Candice Coke and Brad Dourif) have, not surprisingly, created a film only cultists and fanboys could love. Fans of mainstream film need not apply.
All said, this is decidedly minor work from Herzog. As he did with the traditional neo-noir themes in The Bad Lieutenant, Herzog feeds the typical police hostage drama into his patented Wernerlator and what came out the other end is a unique, unconventional, thought-provoking and at times overly-bizarre quasi-horror film. Go figure.
I'm not sure if it matters whether it's any good either because My Son, My Son is a different kind of film than the batshit-crazy, but eminently more-watchable Bad Lieutenant. It's more experimental and while, much like The Bad Lieutenant, it remains distinctly absurdist, it's also entirely more difficult to give yourself over to. On the upsides there are terrific turns by Dafoe, Kier and Michael Shannon, an engaging actor I know nothing about, save for the fact that he also appeared briefly in Bad Lieutenant. He might just have the best face in Hollywood right now and looks like a cross between a younger Dafoe and a deranged Marty Feldman. There's also a dwarf in a tux (probably a funding condition from Lynch), pet pink flamingos and Satan runs an ostrich farm. I mean, what's not to like?
Simply impossible to recommend, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? is part hostage drama, part decent into madness, part Peruvian-kayaking-adventure-meets-Aguirre filming autobiography and part unhinged, surreal, horror flick. Who else but Lynch would have agreed to fund Herzog's foray into the Peruvian rain forest to film a movie about a hostage negotiation in San Diego?
Perhaps the first film that absolutely requires the running commentary track by the director to even begin to understand what's going on.
...and lastly, is it just me or has William Dafoe not aged at all in the last 30 years? What's that all about?