The newest film by Werner Herzog is a deceptively simple inversion of narrative expectations.
The film is told largely through flashbacks, recalling the events that have led up to a man, Brad McCollum (Michael Shannon) being involved in a standoff with police (headed by a brilliant Willem Dafoe as Detective Havenhurst) after murdering his mother. Chloe Savigny as Ingrid, Brad's girlfriend, and Udo Kier as Brad's friend Lee, round out the main players in the cast. Other familiar faces include an interesting turn by Brad Dourif and a brief appearance by Verne Troyer. A real standout is Grace Zabriskie, so memorable in David Lynch's 2006 masterpiece, "Inland Empire", here portraying a mother role that is quite unlike anything I've seen before.
The film takes it narrative and stands it on its head, creating a sense of humor and reflexivity that works well. The opening sequence with Willem Dafoe really sets this tone perfectly. There are the delightful absurdities: Brad's pet flamingos, the ostrich farm, the basketball in the tree, and so on. The relationship between Brad and his mother, and Brad and Ingrid, and Ingrid and Brad's mother, provides a fascinating character dynamic.
There is also a reflexive use of the staging of a play around which Herzog weaves the film's themes, couched in the terms of a Greek tragedy. The scenes are at one pathetic and funny.
The film's narrative discourse is arranged in such a way that the careful revealing of plot points to the audience allows the plot to unfold in such a way that, even though depicting events which have been revealed early on, the film's ending is a magnificent moment of surprise.
"My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done" played at the IFC Center in the West Village tonight with Herzog himself in attendance. Speaking before the film, Herzog explained his desire to make the film on a low budget, allowing for greater control. He also spoke of his collaborating with David Lynch's Absurda company, which produced the film, and that, specifically, Lynch took a very hands-off approach in terms of intervening with the film's direction, despite rumors that he had directed certain scenes himself. Herzog did point out a delightful reference to Lynch's "Blue Velvet" in the scene in which Michael Shannon observes a man, running on a treadmill, and wearing an oxygen mask.