The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things

(USA/UK/France/Japan - 2004)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Asia Argento, Jimmy Bennett, Dylan Sprouse, Cole Sprouse, Peter Fonda
Genre: Drama/Horror
Director: Asia Argento
Screenplay: Asia Argento & Alessandro Magania based on JT LeRoy's short stories
Cinematography: Eric Alan Edwards
Composer: Marco Castoldi

Born to a 15-year-old who’s undoubtedly immature well beyond her years, Jeremiah (Jimmy Bennett/Dylan Sprouse/Cole Sprouse) was only ever loved by his foster parents, who he’s torn from at age 7 when his mother Sarah (Asia Argento) reclaims him for the novelty of raising a child. Asia Argento depicts horrifically brutal child abuse, alternating with unimaginable neglect, with no sugar coating. Draining every ounce of glamour, hope, and redemption, this harrowing feature is as revolting as it should be.

Contempt is served up for idiotic social workers, religious zealots, and horny cops, but the primary reason The Heart is Deceiptful Above All Things is effective is no one is willfully malicious. The people (or countries) who do the most damage are the ones who believe they are helping you by acting righteously. One of Sarah’s many boyfriends whips Jeremiah assuming reoccurence will be prevented by associating the unwanted behavior, pissing his pants, with an undesirable experience, considerable pain. The children thank Jeremiah’s grandfather (Peter Fonda) for his beatings because he’s thrashing the evil out of them.

No one is more clueless than infantile Sarah, who believes she’s rescuing Jeremiah and they’ll have fun together. Again, she isn’t mean spirited, it’s just that her idea of being a mother is waving a stuffed animal in Jeremiah’s face and serving him Spaghetti O’s straight from the can. She drinks and does drugs, so her son should join the party as well. Hopelessly impatient, Sarah expects to win Jeremiah’s love in the first five seconds even though she has no idea how to behave, much less how to earn it. Once she sees his foster parents have his heart, she aims to eradicate all impediments to his love for her through a series of lies that vilify everyone else, thus setting her up as the lone hero.

The Heart is Deceiptful Above All Things is close to as draining as film gets, largely due to the victim being so naive, helpless, and impossibly innocent he becomes almost as intolerable as his abusers. The film is a series of vignettes illustrating the various forms of abuse, relying too heavily on the physical. There isn’t really an arch, a destruction of Jeremiah, he simply keeps coming back for more because there’s not one trustworthy or reliable person in his life. There’s no one for him to turn to, and he can’t simply support himself. Jeremiah is stuck with his vulgar, white trash, truck stop whore of a mom because when she flakes out he lacks even the means to eat.

One can’t argue with autobiographical details, and it’s perhaps important to note that Asia Argento thought she was adapting a true story. Now that literary Milli Vanilli JT LeRoy has been outed, it’s fair to question why Jeremiah doesn’t become more guarded if not outright petrified of other human beings? Even the dumbest animals learn faster than this kid, who winds up being hurt by virtually everyone he has any association with. Jeremiah’s only option is finding a way to get used to every misery. Most directors would use surrealist visions as an escape, but the recurring motif of the (animated) red crows merely serves to prepare Jeremiah for the latest atrocity. Jeremiah’s great triumph is learning to protect his mother, which in most cases would be a noble and worthy feat, but in his case learning to protect himself is the only thing that can really help him.

Argento puts too much focus on her own train wreck of a southern punk rock mom that’s a cross between Nancy Spungen and one of those poor souls desperate enough to humiliate themselves by appearing on the Jerry Springer Show. The stylistic result is similar to a refuge from an Alex Cox punk film being trapped in the world of Harmony Korine. The direction is successful in evoking the attitudes and innate slumminess, but the nature of elucidating a childhood in 90 plus minutes through a collection of short stories results in an a work that seems overly condensed. Yet the problem isn’t so much that there’s too little, but rather that Argento chooses to emphasize the whirlwind of traumas over character dimensionality or development to the point the film seems lengthy from the repetition. I don’t require characters to always change, nor do I expect anything good from this tragic a situation, but the better aspects of the film begin to be negated because it starts to seem like the primary aim is simply to shock the audience. I commend Argento for seeing the bleak subject matter through to the end without sanitizing it for our entertainment, but I hoped to be able to draw some conclusions beyond the obvious, some people should be kept as far away from children as possible.



* Copyright 2007 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *