Undoubtedly, Asia Argento is one of the most interesting and idiosyncratic female filmmakers/actresses working today; and her emotionally afflicting white trash arthouse coming-of-age flick The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (2004) is one of the best examples as to why. Starring and directed by the exotic Italian auteuress, the film is a much more mature, artistic, and controversial work than her previous autobiographical feature-length work Scarlet Diva (2000). Indeed, Scarlet Diva may open with footage of Ms. Argento being pounded doggy-style by a bestial Negro (played by her ex-boyfriend) in a most crude and repulsive (and apparently unsimulated) manner, but The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things features a young child named Jeremiah who is repeatedly drugged, sodomized, and otherwise abused in a variety of appalling ways by a number of true blue American degenerates, including his own mother Sarah (played by Asia Argento). Taking its name from King James Version of the Bible, Book of Jeremiah, chapter 17, verse 9 and based on a novel of the same name by JT LeRoy (a fake identity taken by American writer Laura Albert who was sued for fraud right before the release of the film due to her gross literary dishonesty), The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things is a minor masterpiece of independent film with an all-star cast of ambitious actors; both young (Jeremy Renner, Michael Pitt) and old (Peter Fonda). Clearly inspired by the films of Harmony Korine (who is a personal friend of Argento), The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things is like Gummo (1997) meets Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin (2004), except ultimately more degrading and emotionally damaging. Asia Argento’s maternal great-grandfather Alfred Casella may have been a notable and respected fascist composer, but she is certainly an exponent of exceedingly decadent, degenerate, and hopelessly nihilistic art, as so brazenly expressed in The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things; a cruel cuming-of-age film with such a sadistically sordid tale of a childhood-gone-askew that Henry Lee Lucas probably could have personally identified with it.
After being taken away from his loving and caring foster parents, 7-year-old Jeremiah is reunited with his drug-ridden and sex-crazed biological mother Sarah; a bleach blonde gutter-level harlot who has been long since disowned by her extremist Christian family due to her exceedingly unruly and sinful behavior. Not long after taking him in and causing him to wet his bed due to her innately deplorable lack of mothering skills, Sarah abandons Jeremiah with a melancholy pedophile (Jeremy Renner) – a pathetic man she briefly married but soon dumped after the honeymoon – who shows no mercy in his despicable deflowering of the boy. Needless to say, Jeremiah – who is in a state of absolute confusion that results in out-of-body hallucinations – ends up in the emergency after the ruthless life-altering attack, thus eventually transpiring in his Christian cult grandparents taking him in. Despite only being in the company of his mother and her many drug-addicted delinquent lovers for a short period of time, Jeremiah – to the dismay of his hyper stoic and strict authoritarian grandfather (Peter Fonda) – already shows glaring signs of being exposed to psychedelic drugs and anti-social punk rock music, as displayed by his random impromptu performance of songs by The Sex Pistols and propensity for spitting on indoor floors. Somewhat surprisingly, Jeremiah does quite well at his holier-than-thou Christian grandparents cult compound and even becomes an eager propagandist for the church, but, to his misfortune, Sarah comes back to reclaim him when he is 11-years-old. Now dating a country-loving reprobate redneck truck driver named Kenny who hates her favorite music genre of punk rock, Sarah takes her son on a relentless road trip where she prostitutes herself out to various rustic would-be-cowboys at an assortment of truck stops so she can support her steady drug consumption. Naturally, country boy Kenny gets tired of Sarah’s Subhumans (UK anarcho-punk band) cassettes so he abruptly ditches her and Jeremiah at a less than delightful roadside diner. In what seems to be a dubious attempt to get her son to follow in her slapdash footsteps, Sarah encourages Jeremiah to be her 'little sister' and dresses him in drag. Clearly already mentally unsound due to a lifetime’s worth of anomalous personal trauma, Jeremiah embraces his feminine side and seduces his mother’s latest boyfriend Jackson (played by a hillbilly-attired Marilyn Manson), henceforth resulting in Sarah erupting into a jealous rage of sorts that involves the throwing of piss-poor beer cans and feeble excuses from Mr. Manson. By the end of The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, Jeremiah is once again in the hospital due to his mother’s insistence that he drink ipecac while she is in a frantic meth-induced psychosis. Once again, Sarah’s proves her dedication as a mother by kidnapping her son and taking him on what one can only assume is another exciting and chemical-driven magical mystery tour.
To say that The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things is an extraordinarily appalling and decisively disheartening film would be a bit of a distortion as it is easily one of the most dehumanizing flicks I have ever seen, yet a barbarously brilliant, aesthetically dynamic, and undeniably captivating work nonetheless. Unlike her friend Harmony Korine’s directorial debut Gummo, Asia Argento does not seem to be mocking the poor human rabble that she so keenly and calculatedly depicted. Asia also deserves much praise for her performance as crackhead concubine Sarah because despite her Italian background, she is totally convincing as a thoroughly debauched and awfully abominable Amerikkkan white trash darling with an array of undiagnosed mental illnesses and pathologies. As someone whose own father suspiciously directed her in the bare (Dario Argento’s Trauma), one can only assume that Argento is desensitized to do just about any and everything on camera as displayed by her unmitigatedly unflattering but acutely enrapturing performance in The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things; one of a handful of films that has the capacity to give the viewer spiritual syphilis. In fact, she once stated of acting, "I always thought it was sick to choose looking at yourself on a big screen as your job. There has to be something crooked in your mind to want to be loved by everybody. It’s like being a prostitute, to share that intimacy with all those people," so there should be no doubt as to the sort of dauntless and unhampered mind-set Asia had when approaching the role of Sarah. Her father may be regarded as a (once) legendary master of fantastic horror cinema, but his talent pales in comparison to his daughter’s ability to direct true to life domestic terror and torment. After nearly a decade of reflection upon my initial viewing of The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, I can honestly say that Asia Argento is one of a handful of filmmakers – and the only female filmmaker – whose career I eagerly follow.