Netflix’s The Son Paints A Murky Picture Of Parental Paranoia

Hello, everyone! Have you ever watched a film for the first time and felt a sense of déjà vu? That is how I’ve felt the past few months watching Netflix’s new “original” movies Mirage, The Perfection, and now The Son. All three of these films took elements of their plot, theme, and in The Perfection’s case, even structure from other, better films. Netflix seems to be capitalizing on the familiar, a strategy we have already seen play out to great effect in mainstream filmmaking, hence the 400 Spiderman films and unending 80s reboots.

Netflix has long had a reputation for buying or producing unconventional content. TV shows that we take for granted now as “mainstream,” like Orange Is The New Black and Sense8, were big risks for Netflix that ultimately payed off. The same can be said for their original films, which feature diverse perspectives, come in many languages, and are usually a bit more “off-beat” than what we’ve come to expect from mainstream films.  What bothers me about Netflix’s foray into producing déjà vu movies is that it signals an end to their era of producing unique “original” movies and announces the beginning of their slide into mainstream media’s originality recession. As Disney rolls out its streaming behemoth Disney+ (which if you’re considering buying, PLEASE DON’T!), I fear that Netflix will ditch any taint of originality to retain their customers and switch to pumping out sequels and remakes  to compete with Disney’s evil nostalgia factory. Because let’s be real folks: nostalgia is the death of creativity right now. But anyways, my loathing of Disney will be saved for a longer post.

This brings me to Netflix’s new original film The Son, a mysterious thriller about parenthood that….I feel like I’ve already seen before. It’s a well-crafted film, a suspenseful film, but ultimately, a half-baked film. It reminded me of Darren Aranofsky’s Mother! and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby if both of those films had been from the father’s perspective instead of the mother’s. The Son is not a bad film, but it’s not a great one either. It feels exactly like a movie you’ve already seen, and that alone is reason enough to skip it.

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Synopsis: Artist Lorenzo and his Scandinavian wife Sigrid are expecting a child. Because of Sigrid’s earlier miscarriage, she takes full control of her own pregnancy, including prescribing her own medicine and hiring her old nanny Gudrum to come take care of the baby. Lorenzo feels his grip on his son slipping away, and when Sigrid locks him out of the delivery room, he realizes he’s lost total control. As the baby grows and Sigrid’s possessiveness intensifies, Lorenzo starts to suspect that his son might be an imposter, and goes to extreme lengths to discover the truth.

My take: A parent’s fear of losing control is a well-documented concept in film, but The Son gives it a unique twist by writing the film from the father’s point of view. When we first meet Lorenzo, he is a successful painter with a beautiful new wife, Sigrid, who is a biologist. Already the father of two daughters from his first wife, Lorenzo isn’t worried about fathering another child, but Sigrid is hyper-vigilant after her miscarriage. Already we begin to see the cracks in their relationship: Lorenzo is sensitive and artistic, while Sigrid is cold and clinical.

The Son excels in its early chapters by taking a subtle look at how pregnancy and parenthood can be just as stressful and isolating for the father as they are for the mother. In the beginning, we see small battles for control, like Sigrid repainting the nursery after Lorenzo’s already painted it, or asking him to paint in the attic instead of the living room. We start to wonder if Lorenzo is being unreasonable about Sigrid’s pregnant whims, or if her whims are more serious than we thought.

The real shoe drop is when Lorenzo awakes alone in the night to hear Sigrid giving birth downstairs. When he realizes she hasn’t alerted him, he runs downstairs, only to find the door is locked. The stunning gravity of this moment is perhaps the film’s strongest. When Lorenzo realizes that he has become unessential to the rearing of his own child, The Son grapples with the notion that fatherhood is an unnecessary concept.

If The Son had stayed on this track and continued to explore such an intriguing idea, it would have been a better film. Instead, it takes a hard left towards suspense and leaves the thinking behind. The second half of the film is an imposter film. A dramatic events bars Lorenzo from the house for three months, and when he returns, he doesn’t recognize his child. Psychiatrists diagnose him with Capgras Syndrome, essentially a delusion where a person believes someone close to them is an imposter, and even his friends don’t believe him. But Lorenzo is convinced that Sigrid is lying and is determined to prove it, a decision that leads to one of the most confusing movie endings I’ve seen in years.

I’m not a fan of open-ended movies, but I appreciate them when they’re done well (like No Country for Old Men, Mother!, etc). In my  view, an open-ended film should answer just enough questions for the movie to be coherent but leave enough for the viewer to chew on at the end. The Son doesn’t do either of these things. In two of the pivotal ending scenes, the editing cuts away from the character’s perspective right before the viewer sees what they’ve seen. The next scene gives no explanation to what they saw. This is suspenseful, yes, but it’s also deliberately incoherent and frustrating. The many questions posed by the film go completely unanswered so that at the end the viewer is left with a film that is almost meaningless.

The murkiness of the film’s plot is also present in its setting and character development. The movie is set in Argentina, but the exterior scenes were so nondescript that it could have been set in Ohio for all I know. A good film should provide a vivid sense of time and place, but The Son is too focused on a confusing plot to put time into its setting. Other pieces intended to create character development, like Lorenzo’s paintings, seem like they were only included to give Lorenzo some depth. The painting aspect is what most reminded me of the film Mother!, but unlike Aranofsky’s film which probed the relationship between the creation of art and the creation of life, Lorenzo’s art has no connection to the plot. Sigrid, perhaps the most interesting character in the film, is so unexplored that she’s a blank slate. Why does she do what she does? Explaining her might ruin the film’s murkiness.

Final consensus: The Son presents a unique look at fear and fatherhood, but it fails to explore the concept in favor of an unsatisfying mystery. It takes elements of other better films without improving on them. You might feel like you’ve seen it before (and you probably have). Skip it in favor of something better. How about Rosemary’s Baby?

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2 thoughts on “Netflix’s The Son Paints A Murky Picture Of Parental Paranoia

  1. Thank you for this review.We were so flabbergasted by the ending! Your review is exactly how my husband and I felt! Intriguing plot but left us upset!

    Like

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