Certainly Werner Herzog possesses a unique genius that allows him to incorporate into his films, documentary or otherwise, whatever his current obsession happens to be. His stoic constitution and keen eye for the absurdities of his fellow human beings has resulted in cinematic masterpieces, books, and even his own “Rogue” film school.
What hasn’t Herzog done? Up until now, a good answer to that question would have been “worked with David Lynch.” Now this odd couple has produced a film that, while ftascinating for its pedigree alone, is remarkably chaste when compared to these two filmmakers’ more ambitious works.
The story, by Herzog and his sometime assistant director Herbert Golder, sounds like a distillation of both Lynch and Herzog’s favored cinematic grace notes, among them Peru, birds, and offbeat pacing and line delivery. Michael Shannon is Brad, a thirtysomething SoCal suburban seeker who, as the film begins, has just murdered his mother (gravely played by Lynch regular Grace Zabriskie) with a cavalry sword.
My Son, My Son is chock-full of nods to the respective résumés of both Lynch (coffee, coffee everywhere) and Herzog (jittery hand-held camerawork, deadly raging rivers, wild animals). Unfortunately, the result feels more like a formal exercise in combining the hallmarks of the two auteurs to see what happens — which, when you get right down to it, isn’t much more than a standoff between Brad and the police. Brad’s troubled history is sketched in flashbacks supplied by his girlfriend (Chloe Sevigny) and theatrical director (Udo Kier) — it turns out that Brad was starring in Orestes, hence the sword.
My Son, My Son frankly baffles me. The tone and pacing — laconic, thoughtful, weird — is pure Lynch all the way through. So is the dialogue: “Wouldn’t it be nice to live on the moon?” and “I hate it that the sun comes up in the East” are two egregious Lynchisms among dozens. But Herzog’s stylistic, occasionally combative flourishes are in evidence as well, among them some swoopy Peruvian camera moves and a run-in with a herd of ostriches. All the cast members act as though they were in a Lynch film, giving odd turns of phrase an even odder quality and generally acting a half-beat off of reality.
By the end of this film/experiment/prank — which, to be blunt, is pretty unsatisfying — the viewer is left to ponder what it’s all about, and what its purpose may have been… which, knowing Lynch and Herzog, might well be what it was about, and what its purpose was.