The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things
2005, R, 97 min. Directed by Asia Argento. Starring Asia Argento, Peter Fonda, Jimmy Bennett, Jeremy Renner, Dylan Sprouse, Cole Sprouse, Ben Foster, Marilyn Manson, Ornella Muti, Winona Ryder.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 14, 2006
And now for something completely vile: As it turns out, there's no more a last exit to Brooklyn than there is to hell, as Argento’s supremely distasteful (but no less challenging or accomplished) film describes the ever-decreasing maelstrom of psychic and physical abuse, as well as every conceivable manner of Southern gothic nightmare, inflicted on young Jeremiah (Bennett, playing the boy at age 7). Argento, the daughter of Italian horror maestro Dario, has stubbornly made this tale as repellent as possible; it’s so chock full o’ nuts, you’re likely to gag on it even as you struggle to resist the director’s unambiguous passion for her work and the film’s seamy, tawdry, and technical brilliance. The movie is based on the allegedly autobiographical short stories of teen author J.T. Leroy, a real-life nonentity recently unmasked as a fiction masquerading as a roman à clef as played by the true author’s little sister – which only adds umpteen layers of extra-weird malaise to some already very nasty proceedings. As the film opens, we find Jeremiah in a Dickensian twist of fate, delivered from his seemingly stable suburban foster home back into the clutches of his drug-addled mother, Sarah (Argento), who immediately takes him (in what can only be described as) On the Road (to Hell), replete with loose women (and looser men), Dumpster diving, drugs, rape, and everything else bad you can think of, with the possible exception of a Home Alone screening. John Hughes territory it isn’t – it’s beyond even Hubert Selby’s grim range at times – and it often plays like the flip side of some foul daytime television malarkey, the ruinous black underbelly of the American dream as viewed through the eyes of an innocent tossed whole to the wolves by his own Oedipal, Madonna/Whore mom. It gets worse (and yet worse) until you begin to flinch and then shield your eyes from the sheer amount of torment heaped on poor Jeremiah (played as a teen by Dylan and Cole Sprouse). If you can withstand the unending stream of emotional bilge, however, Argento’s film (featuring some remarkable cinematography from Cop Land’s Eric Alan Edwards) is a thing of heady, evil beauty. Make no mistake: Argento’s film in no way condones the brutality implicit in her film (or in the work of “J.T. Leroy”), and by simply casting herself as the white trash demon-mother she’s taking a huge leap of faith. There are no heroes here, and the character of Sarah is as pure a portrait of parental evil yet to appear onscreen, so The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things forces audiences into the uncomfortable, uncharitable position of having to root for a character who, after only a reel in, is as garishly corrupted as his doomed mother. This is an unpleasant film, but Argento, whose bloodline positively seethes with unpleasantness, is, in her own right, a master cinematic stylist of the first order. It may not be fun to watch – if it were, something would be horribly amiss – but it’s certainly a triumph of the ill-will, and original authorship (or sin) be damned. (Sunday-Thursday only)