Written by Herbert Golder

Directed by Werner Herzog

 Michael Shannon, Chloe Sevigny, Willem Dafoe



My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?




Every great filmmaker is entitled to stumble occasionally; though Werner Herzog, with his new film “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?” has managed to step off a cliff and as far as I know is still falling.  He and his co-writer Herbert Golder have used a crime that took place in the 1970s in San Diego and made their film around it.  A schizophrenic young man (Michael Shannon) named Brad has just killed his mother by running her through with a sword.  He takes two hostages into his house and the police surround the place.


He was an actor, and he phones to his director to come to the house.  He has a fiancee (Chloe Sevigny) whom he also phones.  They tell the police detective (Willem Dafoe) what might have led up to the murder, which involves playing Orestes (badly) in a new production, going with other friends to kayak a river in Peru (Herzog’s favorite place, evidently) and then not going because it’s too dangerous.  Which it was, since all the other kayakers died on the river.


So what’s wrong with “My Son”?  Let me see.  1.  Schizophrenics are only creepy, and not otherwise interesting.  2.  Brad’s mother is so smothering and intrusive she probably deserves to die, though not necessarily by being run through by a sword.  3.  Herzog gives the film away by starting off with the murder, then has no place to go with his plot.  4.  What’s poor Chloe Sevigny doing in this film as Brad’s fiancee?  Why couldn’t she have left him years ago?  5.  The director of Brad’s play, Ugo Kier, at one point describes Brad as being hard to work with but greatly talented.  What we see of the play shows Brad as a terrible actor.  7.  There is very little point in fiction simply repeating fact unless it will add something that the facts have left out.  In the case of “My Son, My Son” nothing was left out, and nothing was added by Herzog, so what was the point?


Herzog has always been a difficult filmmaker, adventurous where others shy away, willing to tackle even the most bizarre stories (think “Aguirre, The Wrath of God,” “Fata Morgana,” “Fitzcarraldo,” among many others).  Some films I like a great deal, many others I think lack focus or even interest.  “My Son” lacks both focus and interest; and I think marks a very low point indeed in Herzog’s career.  Let’s hope that when he reaches bottom he springs right back up again.  I’ll be waiting.