When the Dardenne Brothers’ The Son appeared in 2003, those critics who reviewed it ran out of superlatives. Roger Ebert found it “assured and flawless.” Andrew Sarris couldn’t help “being stirred by the wildly melodramatic climax” and the “thunderously quiescent Zen Buddhist conclusion.” I understand where they’re coming from, even while thinking enthused hyperbole has kicked in.
I can tell that this is a deeply felt work, and that the message contained in its simple (albeit contrived) story is a good one. However, it’s a type of film I simply don’t like, and it didn’t involve me emotionally for an instant. At bottom, it’s a surrogate father-son story. The difference is that the surrogate son in question is also the killer of the father’s real son. Now that’s interesting, and it could have taken many paths as a story. The path chosen is a stripped-down one, which is why the word “restraint” appears in most of the reviews.
There’s no music, not much dialogue (and what there is is mundane), a deliberately bland video look, and not much happens. The film is largely told over-the-shoulder of the father character (we become uncomfortably intimate with the back of his right ear) to give the impression we’re following him. The Dardennes set things up to go one way, then take the opposite direction. That’s clever at first, but predictable long before the film’s “Zen Buddhist conclusion.” But bear in mind — I’m in the minority on this one.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke
3 thoughts on “The Son”
I don’t know if by “bland video look” you meant it was shot on video. I’m assuming you did unless you meant “handheld cinematography”. I’d like to correct you on the former. It was shot on 16mm.
I meant it has the bland look and flat lighting of something that had been shot on video. In other words, it looks like video regardless of what it was actually shot on. Do you happen to know if it was shot on negative or reversal film?
I don’t know.
I found that it felt very film-like and was lit quite moodily at times. Public Enemies, on the other hand I think felt very video-like and flat in its lighting. An intentional choice, but one that failed miserably in my opinion. Of course, Public Enemies was shot on video, but it’s not difficult to disguise that fact with the camera they shot with.