There’s a sense of purposeful exploitation in The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things which I was disappointed by, because in a film as tastefully-while-punkishly directed, I did not want to be needlessly distracted by the bad acting by way of cameos. This film is the directorial debut from the actress Asia Argento (aka the daughter of Italian horror director Dario Argento), and is taken from the autobiographical book by the same name written by JT Leroy. Controversy surrounded this author when (after Argento had shot her film), it was discovered that JT Leroy was not only lying about the horrible events of his childhood, but was really a non-entity, imagined by a woman named Laura Albert, who it turned out was the true writer of the book.
Despite all this, I found this film to be an amazing debut from a rather obscure indie pop culture icon whom I’ve never so much as admired, more than been enamored by. I have to say, I’m surprised she could make such a harrowing film, keeping with the originally harrowing story, and never going over the top to employ extremes or gratuitousness in order to get a point across. Instead, the whole film feels as though it could have been made by the 7-year-old little JT himself.
One place Argento went wrong though, however slight, was in keeping with the “celebrity cool” of the production. For instance, Marilyn Manson as an actor brings nothing to this picture whatsoever; in fact I had to look twice to make sure it was him (which distracted me from the rather critical scene). Winona Ryder as a disaffected children’s therapist seemed out of place and unnecessary in the already cold, anti-establishment tone of the film. Lydia Lunch as a heartless social worker – also a useless walk-on. Michael Pitt as a drugged out biker – too pigeonholing. Need I say more?
Argento herself was actually palatable after the first 15 minutes in, but I’ll admit it took time to acclimate to her supposed Southern white trash drawl, and even after I’d got used to it, I could never really think it was anyone other than that Italian vixen Asia Argento, playing a slutty, selfish whore. Each scene was like a way to show her character’s various costumes.
The young boy (played by Jimmy Bennett) in this film, was superb. His acting never seemed to be forced and he was in some scenes which I can only imagine would take some general “forcing” for a child of his age and exposure. The character he plays actually has room to metamorphose throughout the length of the film. We see the literal transformation of an innocent young boy into a desperate lost child. By the end of the film it is apparent he does not even know what gender he is, what is right from wrong, and especially what the meaning of love truly is.
Little JT (called Jeremiah from the psalm in the Bible which the title comes from), is forced to mature much too soon in order to appease his mother (if that’s what she can be called for not even she wants him to address her as that). Jeremiah believes that it is his job to protect her, love her and support her. She constantly fills his head with untruths and misgivings about his previous foster parents and other people he comes in contact with, just as she constantly fills his head with her abrasive reasoning for why she treats him as she does: because he wasn’t supposed to happen, because he is a “shitty bastard” who only drags her down. Yet, for as much as she obviously loathes him, and leaves him to fend for himself in horrible displays of negligence, she always pops up again to find him and rub her dirty little nail polished hands all over him.
The film pulls together other integral elements which make it so meaningful to me. There are a number of scenes in which the young Jeremiah mentally goes to another place while he’s being whipped by one “father” or molested by another. In comparison to a far superbly directed film dealing with such taboo subject matter, Tim Roth’s The War Zone, Argento’s film makes the scenes of pain for the child a hair more disturbing for the audience, by showing us the images the boy is forced to call up in lieu of facing what he is presently experiencing. This brings the viewer to a whole new level of sorrow for his character.
And that’s what the film’s all about, feeling sorrow for these characters. I guess we are supposed to feel something for Argento’s “mother” figure (judging by the back-story of her ultra-Christian conservative Peter Fonda-for-a-preacher/father upbringing and the final scenes of the film), but I was unable to. If the hearts of the viewers are supposed to be deceitful in the sense that we feel sorrow for the mother by the close of the film, when we know consciously that we should feel nothing but contempt for her and what she’s (potentially) irreversibly done to her own child, I am proud to reaffirm, my heart was conversely very true. I didn’t feel sorry for her at the opening scenes and I don’t feel a bit different now even writing this.