My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done

The mystery isn’t who. But why.

Premiered: December 11th, 2009 in select US theaters
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
MPAA Motion Picture Rating: Rated R for some language


Michael Shannon … as Brad Macallam
Willem Dafoe … as Detective Havenhurst
Chloë Sevigny … as Ingrid Gudmundson
Udo Kier … as Lee Meyers
Michael Peña … as Detective Vargas
Grace Zabriskie … as Mrs Macallam
Brad Dourif … as Uncle Ted
Irma P. Hall … as Mrs Roberts
Loretta Devine … as Ms Roberts
Candice Coke … as Officer Slocum
Gabriel Pimentel … as Little Man
Braden Lynch … as Gary
James C. Burns … as Brown
Noel Arthur … as Naval Guard
Julius Morck … as Phil

Status: Out on DVD & Blu-Ray.

Memorable Ingrid Quotations
Said of My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done Trivia
Critical Reception
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done Online

Spoiler Warning: Please be advised that this page is meant to be a comprehensive overview of a movie and is likely to contain critical spoilers as to the various story-wise outcomes. If you’d like to remain spoiler-free as to what happens in the movie in question, we suggest you not read any further.

Content Warning: Please note that Chloë Sevigny has appeared in many R-rated movies which contain material unsuitable for young or sensitive audiences due to their mature, violent, frightening or otherwise graphic footage or content. If you are sensitive to this kind of content, some material presented on our site, such as screen caps and video clips from the movie itself, may not be suitable for you.

More photos in our My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done gallery


From Rotten Tomatoes:

Brad (Michael Shannon) has committed murder and barricaded himself inside his house. With the help of his friends and neighbours, the cops piece together the strange tale of how this nice young man arrived at such a dark place… Based on a true story, this gripping and unnerving blend of deadpan comedy, melodrama and raw tragedy is fleshed out by an expert cast.

Chloë Sevigny portrays Ingrid, Brad’s girlfriend and one of his few remaining connections to the “normal” world.

Memorable Ingrid Quotations

Quotations coming soon/not available.

Said of My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done

Select quotations regarding the film from Chloë Sevigny and her co-workers:

Quotations coming soon/not available.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done Trivia

• The film is loosely based on the true-life story of Mark Yavorsky, a San Diego man who claimed he was inspired by Aeschylus’s Oresteia to stab and kill his mother with an antique saber on June 10th, 1979. Yavorsky was at the time a graduate student at UCSD who had recently been cast in the lead role of a production of The Eumenides. Yavorsky was tried and found not guilty by reason of insanity, and spent many years at Patton State Hospital before eventually being released. Director Herzog even met with Yavorsky prior to filming, however the film does not follow his story closely as Herzog himself has stated that “about 70 percent of the script is false… loosely made up.”

• Chloë Sevigny and Grace Zabriskie also appeared together on HBO’s Big Love.

• According to an interview with Chloë in the August/September 2009 issue of Tokion, Chloë was initially a little apprehensive about working with director Herzog, with whom she had previously had a less than pleasant working experience on Julien Donkey-Boy in 1999. “But we spoke on the phone before, and he seemed very kind and enthusiastic about me being in the project. I showed up and he was very gentle, and it was completely the opposite of the experience on Julien Donkey-Boy.”

• Although the film was generally advertised as a Werner Herzog-David Lynch collaboration, Lynch was in fact only an executive producer and did not actively participate in the making of the film. According to Chloë, he was never seen on set (Tokion, 2009).

• In addition to locations in Los Angeles and San Diego, California, scenes in My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done were also shot in Peru, Mexico and China. The main location for the shoot was a real home in Point Loma, San Diego. Although this was near Mark Yavorsky’s home, director Herzog says this was only a coincidence and a financial decision. Herzog had also originally set the rafting trip scene at the Braldu River in the western Himalayas, where Yavorsky had had his life-changing experience as well, but for safety reasons did not wish to film in Northern Pakistan.

Critical Reception

Reviews on My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done were mixed upon the film’s 2009 release and the film went largely unnoticed by the larger audiences. While Michael Shannon’s haunting lead was generally praised by the critics, the overall mystery surrounding his character and decisions were — by constrast — a frequent source of exasperation.

Rating: Internet Movie Database: 6.3/10 with c. 7,400 user votes counted
Rating: MetaCritic: 59/100 metascore, “Mixed or average reviews”
Rating: Rotten Tomatoes: 50% positive reviews (“Rotten”)

Extracts from professional movie reviews:

“The result is a film that gets increasingly under our skin as it goes along, tying up loose ends along the way while leaving other things maddeningly out of reach. This offbeat storytelling may infuriate moviegoers who like tidy plotting, but for fans of bold filmmaking that challenges our perceptions of real events, this is simply stunning. The flashbacks alone are worth the price of admission, from the fateful river trip in Peru to flaring tensions in the theatre group to, most outrageously (and most Lynchian), the bizarre relationship between Brad and his mum. […] Along the way, Herzog offers some potent commentary about fanaticism, and he sparks his cast to truly remarkable performances, including a series of eerily frozen tableaux. Shannon is especially good as the unhinged young man whose world seems to spiral into a sort of Inca tragedy, with Zabriskie stealing her scenes by simply deploying those magnificent eyes. This isn’t a whodunit, and it doesn’t really explain why either, but as an exploration of one man’s increasingly erratic behaviour, it’s pure magic.”
– Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

“Lynch and Herzog also share a deadpan sense of humor, so it makes sense that My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done — directed by Herzog and “presented by” Lynch as executive producer — is a giddy hybrid of their creative sensibilities. It’s also a mostly incoherent mess, but that doesn’t stop it from being an amusing curio like Herzog’s previous feature, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. […] Michael Shannon (most recently seen in The Runaways) is intensely charismatic and strangely off-kilter, fully committed to his role as Brad, a San Diego grad student who ignites a residential-hostage crisis (based on the 1979 matricide case of Mark Yavorsky) after killing his needy, controlling mother (Grace Zabriskie) with a saber. […] Along the way, Herzog occasionally freezes his actors in tableau poses that fail to deliver any discernible significance. Herzog’s intentions remain frustratingly vague, and while the presence of Herzog favorite Brad Dourif (as Brad’s ostrich-farmer uncle) adds another touch of sun-baked eccentricity, it’s not enough to prevent this from being one of Herzog’s quirky misfires.”
– Jeff Shannon, The Seattle Times

“Michael Shannon’s performance as Brad is a godsend, the best film performance that this great, under-used character actor has ever given us; it is carefully, weirdly attuned to the physical space and other characters around him, so that he always seems the most organic part of any scene and at the same time completely alien in every context. Nicolas Cage’s performance as the crazy cop in The Bad Lieutenant was showier and perhaps more dangerous, but Shannon is infinitely more discomfiting and upsetting; since the best way to compare the two films is to call My Son, My Son more discomfiting and upsetting, this distinction between the actors seems just. […] My Son, My Son is still a movie that nobody else could have made, and nobody else would have wanted to make. Which may or may not be a good thing; but the film unquestionably has the merit of being wildly unconventional, and even the viewer who is wildly turned-off by the film can’t argue in faith that it’s dull. Which maybe was the point all along. Anyway, I liked the hell out of it.”
– Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstacy

Awards & Nominations

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done has received 2 award nominations.


• Casting Society of America Artios Award (2010): Outstanding Achievement in Casting – Low Budget Feature – Drama/Comedy
• Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Award (2009) (Werner Herzog)

Chloë Sevigny Online

Please note that the opinions expressed below are all 100% our own, not those of Chloë Sevigny or anyone affiliated with either her or the rest of the cast or crew.

When I’m asked what my favorite movie by Chloë is, I feel I’m often expected to say Boys Don’t Cry. But while Boys Don’t Cry *is* very good — excellent, in some respects — it isn’t my favorite Chloë movie. Nor is my favorite movie Larry Clark’s Kids, the cult classic featuring Chloë’s widely beloved breakout performance from 1995 — frankly, I’ve never quite gotten into Harmony Korine’s brand of voyeurism under the pretense of “realism”. I like my movies fictional. I like movies have a journey that begins from one point and ends at another. Movies with storytelling that carries you forward, not seemingly incidental scenes from a character’s life woven into a movie merely by way of a common theme (I’m looking at you, Harmony >.>). I don’t particularly yearn for realism. Rather I yearn for movies that don’t need to rely on shock effect to maintain interest (still looking at you, Korine >.>). And one of the best and most interesting movies to come in this direction in the 21st century is Werner Herzog’s My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done.

That isn’t to say that My Son, My Son doesn’t have its problems. It is long-winded, running around in circles rather than coming straight to a point. It perplexes and baffles, sometimes to the point that you begin to wonder why you even care. Yet contrary to many other films, at no point does this maddening non-communication of answers and conclusions feel unintended. The movie wants to be mysterious, wants to be eerie, wants to be bewildering to the point of exhaustion. You as a viewer are not meant to fully understand the motivations of Michael Shannon’s Brad, the same way you could never fully understand the mental workings of a unstable person in real life. All you can do is watch and wonder.

The undisputed star of the film is Michael Shannon, however Chloë Sevigny, too, pulls out a terrific supporting performance as Brad’s girlfriend Ingrid, who is the only figure of normalcy in Brad’s life. She is also the one character the audience relates to as it watches Brad’s descent into madness. Ingrid perfectly mirrors the viewer as she tries to follow Brad on his journey, but struggles to really understand him. Willem Dafoe remains by contrast rather underused as Detective Havenhurst, but delivers a solid performance nonetheless despite the limits of the character.

This isn’t a movie to everyone’s taste, but if you’re a fan of Shannon and/or Chloë and are ok with not having all the answers by the end credits, then watch — and wonder. :) -Admin

Our rating of the movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Our rating of Chloë’s performance: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done Online

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