A title not to be mistaken as being addressed to the filmmaker by his skeptical dad in reaction to this movie, but maybe should be, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done manages to come off as both baffling and mystifying at the same time. German filmmaker Werner Herzog, who’s also currently making an impression at the plexes with The Bad Lieutenant, presents in contrast with this film a good lieutenant in the personage of Willem Dafoe. Though Dafoe’s current turn in Antichrist, is even more radically bad, indeed.
Michael Shannon is the bad Brad in question in My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done, an increasingly disturbed young San Diego man with the doomed misfortune, at least in movies these days, of being raised by a single mom (Grace Zabriskie), after his father passed away years ago. Unconsoled in the least by a financially pampered existence, Brad takes off for Peru for a little spiritual meditation and white water rafting, after which he is rumored to return as ‘strange’ ever since.
While performing later on in an amateur production of a Greek play in which his character is prompted to impale his mother with a sword, Brad decides to take his performance off stage and slice up his real life, overly doting bordering on suffocating mom, while engaged to be married to the theatrical maternal version, Ingrid (Chloe Sevigny). And as Dafoe’s Detective Havenhurst pursues the suspect where he’s holed up in his house with possible hostages, the film shifts back in time to detail Brad’s mental deterioration, when he began to hear God on his boombox and worship oatmeal boxes. Likewise suspect is Mom’s repugnant jello, which may have been the last straw triggering Brad’s irreversible descent into madness. In any case, the lunatic’s proclaimed mantra, without reference to any white whale though flamingos may be implicated, is Call Me Farouk.
And as a patient SWAT team mulls various scenarios to coax the perp out of his house, Ingrid and the concerned drama coach (Udo Kier) engage in perpetual hand wringing, while searching for pre-existing clues that Brad may have been losing his mind. Including his mother forcing the guy to play drums instead of the piano, Brad’s decision to leave a basketball up in a tree, and a confession that he cries only out of his left eye.
In any case, there is far too much collective pursuit and fretting over a rather unappealing and insignificant central character, stretching across borders both to the north and south of San Diego, and involving Canadian escalators and a collection of prescription glasses in Tijuana. And perhaps a German filmmaker nearly as disoriented a stranger in a strange land, as his designated protagonist.