The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things

Film review by: Witney Seibold


            Author J.T. Leroy had a terrible childhood. His life as a young prostitute, he explains, was caused by an unhealthy bond with his mother, a prostitute herself, a drug addict, an abuser, a transient. He was forced, he claims, by drugs, a bad example, and not a little bit of madness into a hurtful life which he was convinced was a comfort. Oh, By the way, J.T. Leroy, it has recently been revealed, does not exist. He’s really a posh middle-aged woman who experienced none of what was in the books. This fact adds an extra, intentional edge to Asia Argento’s aggressively miserable film. Rather than trying to elicit sympathy for the seriously messed-up true-to-life characters, we are given a much more rich experience of struggling with our ambivalence toward the material. To we sympathize with the characters, or do we hate Argento for deliberately putting us through the wringer?

            5-year-old Jeremiah is taken from his comfortable Foster home by his biological mother (Argento), who tries to convince him that his old parents didn’t want him. She feeds him ecstasy, has him wait in the car while he turned tricks, and is given fatherly advice (i.e. belt lashings) from a series of short-lived boyfriends. He is raped at one point, picked up at the hospital by his grandmother, taken to a Christian cult compound (led by Peter Fonda!) where he is cleaned up, but where lashing are still regular. I suppose lashing with baths is better than lashings without. Our hero often pictures, in the film’s more bizarre and beautiful sequences, his body being picked apart by giant red birds. When Jeremiah is later kidnapped by his mom, the damage begins anew. This time, though, he seems to be a slave to his mother’s twisted and dirty life, and is soon dressing like her, seducing her boyfriends, and escaping into deeper and deeper levels of escape and drug-addled tragedy.

            It’s a horrifying experience to witness all of this misery. But the film possesses an odd, oblique, fantasy-like quality that makes it less than a boring biopic about a sad life and more a dizzying nightmare. By the end of the film we have begun to see the inextricable link that mother and son share; their common bond is madness. It’s a scary and uncomfortable and challenging and sometimes icky experience. It’s also bracing and fascinating, and Argento is proving herself to be something of an enfant terrible of new cinema.

March 10th, Palm Pictures

Published in: on August 12, 2008 at 10:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

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