Lynch and Herzog. Herzog and Lynch. It's a titanic team-up of epic proportions not seen since Superman and Batman first joined forces in Superman #76 back in 1954. David Lynch serves as executive producer on "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done" with Werner Herzog as director and co-writer with Herbert Golder.
"My Son, My Son" was loosely based on the case of Mark Yavorsky, a San Diego man who murdered his mother in 1979. Yavorsky was a stand out basketball player and grad student studying drama at UCSD. At the time, he was starring in a staging of Sophocles' Greek tragedy, "Electra," as Orestes who would murder his mother, Electra, in revenge for killing his father, Agamemnon. Ironically, Yavorsky would do the same, running repeatedly stabbing his mother with an antique sword.
Michael Shannon plays Yavorsky analogue, Brad McCallum, a deeply disturbed individual who still lived at home with his doting mother (Grace Zabriskie). One morning, he walked into his neighbor's house, where mom had taken shelter, and murdered her. Detective Hank Havenhurst (Willem Dafoe) and his younger partner Detective Vargas (Michael Pena) are called to the scene. Brad has barricaded himself in his home, brandishing a shotgun, and claiming to have two hostages. The police are soon joined by Brad's fiancée, Ingrid (Chloe Sevigny), and theatrical director Lee Meyers (Udo Kier), who worked with Ingrid and Brad on a production of "The Oresteia."
Together, they reveal Brad's erratic behavior since his return from a disastrous whitewater rafting trip in Peru. His companions were killed by the violent rapids, but Brad escaped when he voice told him not to go. Brad claims to see God in the face of the Quaker Oats oatmeal guy. He vows to buy a home on the moon for Ingrid. His mantra of "Razzle dazzle" becomes eerily reminiscent of Charles Manson and "Helter skelter."
"My Son, My Son" is as much a straight hostage drama as "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call" was a straight crime thriller. This is never more evident than in the moment when the police examine the crime scene. Don't expect exciting the use of high-tech equipment or the discovery of DNA evidence ala "CSI." No, the detectives break out tape measures to log in the exact locations of coffee cups on a table. You can also see the unique flourishes of both Lynch and Herzog throughout the picture.
As Lynch did with "Blue Velvet," Herzog examines the dark underbelly of idyllic suburbia. The film was shot on location in the actual neighborhood of Point Loma where Yavorsky lived and committed his crime of matricide. It is a completely nondescript area made all the more surreal with the usage of pink and flamingoes as a recurring theme. McCallum has two flamingos as pets and has decorated his garage door with a pastel colored mural of flamingos. Pink dinnerware and other similarly colored items are present during a luncheon with McCallum, his mother, and Ingrid. When mom serves oh so American dessert of Jell-O, the participants freeze in place, creating the Bizarro version of a Norman Rockwell painting. Herzog uses this pseudo-freeze frame again in a scene where McCallum and his bigoted uncle (Brad Dourif) pose in the foreground of a snow-capped forest as a dwarf in a tuxedo stands between them in the background. I don't really know what's going on, but there is an unsettling beauty to Herzog's impromptu tableaus.
By the way, the uncle is an ostrich farmer. It seems gangly, long-legged birds are Herzog's current fascination in the way he fixated on iguanas and gators in "Bad Lieutenant."
Long-time character actor Michael Shannon gives another stellar performance as the unhinged McCallum. His booming voice and wild-eyed intensity make you really believe he's completely off his nut. Shannon has been moving further and further into the forefront recently with his Oscar nominated role in "Revolution Road" and excellent turns in films like "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," "Shotgun Stories," and "The Runaways." If there's any justice in the world, Shannon will have the career longevity of Christopher Walken. Shannon is joined by Brad Dourif and Udo Kier, making "My Son, My Son," a sort-of character actor heaven for cinephiles.
Lynch veteran, Gracie Zabriskie ("Wild at Heart," "Twin Peaks"), doesn't have many lines in the film, but she doesn't need them. With only the simple act of arched eyebrow, Zabriskie manages to speak in volumes through her severe features and facial expressions. Her "Big Love" co-star, Chloe Sevigny, does a fine job as McCallum's naïve paramour who doesn't get the hint to run like hell during his numerous breakdowns. Herzog rounds out the cast with solid performances from Willem Dafoe, Michael Pena, Irma P. Hall, and Loretta Devine.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. "My Son, My Son" was the first film by Herzog shot with the digital RED camera. The director stated he was not big fan of the camera, but whatever deficiencies in the transfer are likely due to post-production and not technical problems. The transfer is clean and detailed, but the colors have a drab and muted quality.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo. Both sound tracks are good though the 5.1 track won't give your sound system a sweat. Dialogue comes in crisp and clear.
First up is an audio commentary track with Herzog, Golder, and producer Eric Bassett. All three participants are never at a loss for words. The commentary is an easy and informative listen as they discuss the production, the locations, the cast, and their bizarre meetings with Yavorsky.
"Plastic Bag" (18:28) is a short film written and directed by Ramin Bahrani, the filmmaker behind the excellent "Chop Shop" and "Goodbye Solo." Narrated by Herzog, the short follows the existential journey of a plastic bag. Even if you didn't care for the main feature, I'd recommend renting the DVD to at least check out "Plastic Bag."
Behind the Madness: The Making of My Son, My Son (27:32) is an in-depth featurette that covers some of the same territory as the commentary.
The DVD also includes trailers for other First Look movies.
As a native San Diegan, it was a delight to see familiar sights such as Point Loma, Balboa Park, and the Convention Center. Herzog also shot on location near the Urubamba River in Peru, the famous sites used in "Aguirre" and "Fitzcarraldo." While "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done" may not measure up to those past films, Herzog manages to craft a strange and compelling tale of a man's tenuous grasp on sanity.