Brad: I’ve seen God. In this house.
Brad: In the kitchen.
Specifically, inside a can of oatmeal; and such goes the order of the universe in Brad McCallum’s troubled mind. Nominated for the Golden Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, My Son My Son What Have Ye Done is the offbeat black comedy based on a true story, directed by Werner Herzog and produced by David Lynch. Swinging between tragedy, comedy and absurdism, it masks as a cop thriller/ murder mystery, except we already know who did it. Starring opposite i-D cover star Chloë Sevigny as Ingrid, the subservient fiancé and Willem Dafoe as Hank the laid back detective, is Michael Shannon, taking on the lead role of Brad, an amateur actor obsessed to the point of insanity with the part he is playing in the Greek tragedy Elektra, where the protagonist Orestes slays his mother. And you can guess what happens, but this isn’t a spoiler because Herzog is neither interested in the suspense of a who-done-it mystery, nor in depicting the schizophrenia that Brad clearly suffers from. None of the obvious narrative facts are particularly important in this film. Rather, its triumph lies in the supremacy of individual scenes, sincerity of performance, ironic scripting and deadpan comedy.
The film flashes back to the scenes that lead to the central cathartic event; Brad killing his mother. We are introduced to Brad following his return from Peru, struggling to cope with a tragedy that occurred while he was there. He and Ingrid are due to marry in a month, and endure dinners with his eccentric loopy mother in her pink flamingo decorated house. They work on the play together under the instruction of the play’s director, who befriends Brad and is subsequently called to the scene of the crime along with Ingrid to help unravel the motive. As the detective explains to them, “I don’t mean to alarm you, Miss, but it’s all a little strange. He claims his name is Farouk. He shouts about God and he keeps tossing oatmeal at us”. With no intended focal point, Herzog is able to lead his audience on a wild ostrich run, leaving mysteries unexplained and plot by the wayside.
My Son My Son What Have Ye Done is showing in selected cinemas now.