THE HEART IS DECEITFUL ABOVE ALL THINGS. (2004) DIRECTED BY ASIA ARGENTO. BASED ON THE 2001 BOOK OF THE SAME NAME BY JT LEROY.
STARRING ASIA ARGENTO, DYLAN AND COLE SPROUSE, JIMMY BENNETT, MARILYN MANSON, PETER FONDA AND ORNELLA MUTI.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?’ Jeremiah 17.9
Oh, wowee-wow. This is a hard film to watch, as is any film with sustained child abuse in it. The book, along with two others, were supposedly autobiographical novels written by teenage boy author sensation, JT LeRoy.
About halfway through the ‘Noughties, however, the whole JT LeRoy thing was revealed to be both fraudulent and JT himself the relative-in-law of Laura Albert, the real writer of the books.
Ms. Albert is actually a lovely, open and friendly woman whom I met when she came to Dublin about five or six years ago for a screening of the documentary AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY.
She stated at the time of the big ‘Exposure’ that using the avatar-slash-persona-slash-alias of JT LeRoy to ‘hide’ behind helped her to write things she might otherwise have found too tough to commit to paper.
Nothing wrong with that, except that convincing people that JT LeRoy was the author of the books was construed as, ahem, fraud, and there might have been some, er, legal unpleasantness attendant upon the whole thing…
The whole thing was viewed as quite the literary swizz, in fact, and some people were really not very happy at all about being swizzed, and I suppose you can’t really blame them. But let’s move on to the plot, shall we?
Asia Argento, stunning Italian actress and the daughter of legendary film-maker Dario Argento, is excellent and very believable as the main character Sarah. Sarah is a trashy wench indeed, a drug addict prostitute and alcohol abuser, and the America she inhabits, the America of truck-stops and cheap motel rooms, is portrayed as a bleak and unforgiving place to be.
The daughter of physically abusive and, frankly, terrifying, Christian Fundamentalists, played by Peter Fonda and Ornella Muti, Sarah is probably the most effed-up person you’ll ever see on screen.
When we first meet her, she’s getting her seven-year-old son Jeremiah back from his stable foster family. She’s not much cop at mothering, to put it mildly. Neither is she doing him any favours by taking him away from the only decent home he’s ever known…
First, she convinces the terrified boy that his foster parents don’t want him, then she wallops him over the head (metaphorically at first) with the full impact of her dysfunctional lifestyle. Poor kid doesn’t stand a chance.
No school, no regular meals- just what he can find or forage- and physical and sexual abuse by the bucketload, courtesy of Sarah’s long parade of dead-beat truck-driving boyfriends. Sometimes they all just live in the trucks for a while because it’s handier.
The child is also left alone in the house for days at a time while Sarah goes on holiday with some guy. But don’t worry, folks! There might be some crackers in the cupboard…
Poor Jeremiah lives with his grandparents’ brutal cult for three years while a drugged-up Sarah goes gallivanting with her men, each one more unsuitable than the last.
Then she swans in and takes him back again. Thus begins the next phase of Jeremiah’s miserable existence; dressing up as Sarah’s ‘little sister’ so her boyfriends won’t be put off by the fact that she’s saddled with a kid. Nice, huh?
Jeremiah becomes even more messed up with all the cross-dressing stuff. Throw in an exploding meth lab and Sarah’s deteriorating mental state and you’ve got yourself a recipe for certain disaster. The film is well-acted but so, so bleak.
Marilyn Manson has a small role as a dead-beat boyfriend who succumbs to Jeremiah’s sexual advances- yes, you read that right- while the child is dressed in his momma’s ‘seduction’ gear. It’s just so effed-up.
One disturbing footnote to the film is the following. Jimmy Bennett, who plays young Jeremiah, received a large cash settlement from Asia Argento after he claimed that she’d sexually assaulted him in a hotel room in 2013, when he was seventeen and she was thirty-seven. It’s all a bit sordid. Watch the film if you think you can handle it, but don’t say you weren’t warned.