When I went to a reading of Werner Herzog’s newly released book Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo (1982), Herzog read a passage concerning the beautiful but cruel beast known as the wilderness. The trope of the wild consistently re-occurs in both Herzog’s fiction and non-fiction films ranging from Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), Fitzcarraldo, and Rescue Dawn (2007) to Grizzly Man (2005) and Encounters at the End of the World (2007). Despite this trend, while watching the trailer for his upcoming film, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2010), the last thing I expected was its abundance of nature. After all, the film is inspired by the life of Mark Yarovsky (Michael Shannon in the film), a University of California-San Diego graduate student who stabbed his mother. Sure, I expected madness; Herzog’s other dramatic obsession, which is often tied to the wild. But nature, weather it be an ostrich stealing a pair of glasses or Michael Shannon at the side of a river? This is, after all, a film about a Southern Californian who murdered his mother with an antique saber.
If there’s one thing I’ve always admired about Herzog’s work, it’s the unexpected, within both his films and his choice in projects. This year, before My Son is to hit theaters, Herzog will release his darkly comedic re-imagining of Abel Ferrara’s crime drama Bad Lieutenant (1992) subtitled Port of Call New Orleans (2008) with Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes, and Val Kilmer. This is coming from the director whose last film was a documentary about Antarctica. How’s that for eclectic? Then comes My Son, which has a double-dose of the unusual behind the camera, as Herzog’s producer was David Lynch (Mulholland Dr., Blue Velvet) and, judging from the trailer, we’re in for a strange ride with the help of an excellent supporting cast featuring Willem Dafoe and Chloe Sevigny. After all, if Revolutionary Road (2008) had anything good going for it, it was Michael Shannon’s Academy Award nominated performance as former mathematician suffering from a mental breakdown. Herzog, Lynch, and Shannon. I’ll be at the front of the line opening weekend.