Hot on the heels of “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” “My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done,” Werner Herzog’s other 2009 film, opens today. And to hear critics tell it, this one (produced by fellow oddball David Lynch) actually looks, against all odds, to be the stranger of the two.
“Elaborating on his new career as the master of the jive-talking, echt-American, extravagantly titled faux–straight-to-DVD policier, Werner Herzog contrives to have ‘My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done’ pick up, more or less, in the wacky realm where ‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans’ left off,” observes the Village Voice’s J. Hoberman. “Everything about this berserk, essentially static procedural is just crazy enough to be true. In any case, Herzog has gone beyond Good and Evil to reinvent himself as a candidate for the wiggiest director of comedy in America today.”
“A San Diego man (Michael Shannon) kills his mother (Grace Zabriskie) with a sword, and a detective (Willem Dafoe) pieces together the bizarre backstory that led to the crime. That’s the basic premise for Werner Herzog’s latest, but it doesn’t begin to encapsulate the mesmerizing strangeness of this hi-def feature, which recalls the cowriter-director’s 1976 masterpiece, ‘Heart of Glass,'” writes Keith Uhlich in his 5-star review for Time Out New York. “In that earlier film—set in a Bavarian glassblowing village—most of the cast performed their roles under hypnosis. There’s a similar sense of entrancement here, as if everyone is going through the motions of a police procedural while subject to the will of a mystical puppet master.”
The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis: “At one point — actually, at a number of points — while watching Werner Herzog’s ‘My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done’ you might be tempted to murmur, ‘My Werner, My Werner, What Have Ye Done.’ The question seems reasonable, all things considered, particularly given that some of these things include buggy eyes, galloping ostriches, a samurai sword, a mariachi band, a pair of live flamingos named MacDougal and MacNamara and a little man who pops up as if he were an attraction in a David Lynch production… Mr. Herzog seems to be groping for some kind of meaning, a way into psychosis, or perhaps just biding his time, which is fine as far as it goes. Ostriches, for instance, make for enjoyable viewing, especially when they’re gobbling a pair of glasses or stampeding en masse across the screen in a cloud of feathers and dust. What they have to do with a man who murdered his mother is a mystery, which is perhaps the point.”
“‘My Son’ seems to explore that mix of the synthetic with the natural, the iconoclastic and the expected,” writes Noel Murray in the A.V. Club. “But it’s undeniably a bumpy trip. While watching Shannon talk to his pet flamingoes or tote around an embroidered pillow that reads ‘M Is For Mom, Not Maid,’ viewers will have to decide for themselves whether ‘My Son’ is a terrible, terrible movie or an uncompromising Herzog experiment in reality-bending. Here’s a suggestion: consider the track record.”
“The idea of an artist shaping his madness creatively is profoundly Herzogian, and ‘My Son’ boasts a concentrated, evocative mise-en-scène that stylistically outclasses ‘POCNO,’ which deliberately proceeded as network TV-style chunks stitched together by a galvanic performance,” writes Fernando F. Croce in Slant Magazine. “Yet the film’s Southern California is strenuously deadpan where ‘POCNO”s New Orleans was organically hysterical, a disconnect between auteur and environment further hampered by the way Herzog, in a kooky-esoteric mood, has decided to people it with parodic nods to Lynch’s tropes (sudden bursts of profanity, promiscuous coffee-drinking, tuxedoed dwarves). An unsatisfying trifle, the film plays most intriguingly as a curious meeting between simpatico but ultimately incompatible artists, not unlike Dali painting his own version of Millet’s ‘Angelus.'”
The L Magazine’s Michael Joshua Rowin: “Due to Shannon’s simmering, melancholic portrayal of McCullum and Herzog’s brooding, silhouetted lighting, ‘My Son’ evokes the ineffability of derangement—viewed with almost elegiac tranquility, McCullum’s hallucination of god on an oatmeal box and obsessive desire to visit ‘the sick in general’ become mysterious cries for help rather than freakish displays of weirdness… ‘My Son’ suggests madness not as visionary psychosis, but as disturbed, unapproachable loneliness.”
Watch the trailer for “My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done” on YouTube.