Based on a controversial collection of short stories by JT LeRoy (which was a pen name used by the writer Laura Albert), The Heart is Deceitful About All Things covers three years in the life of Jeremiah and his dug addict mother Sarah. Over the course of the film, Jeremiah is played by thee different actors — Jimmy Bennett at age 7 and, at age 10, Cole and Dylan Sprouse. Sarah is fearlessly played by the film’s director, Asia Argento.
Partially in response to her extremely religious upbringing, Sarah spends most of her time drinking, smoking meth, and moving from man to man, the majority of whom treat both her and her son badly. It looks like things are going to get better when Sarah marries the seemingly stable Emerson (Jeremy Renner) but, when Sarah suddenly abandons both her husband and her son so that she can go to Atlantic City, Emerson rapes Jeremiah.
Jeremiah is sent to live with his grandfather (Peter Fonda) and grandmother (Ornella Muti) who, it turns out, are members of an ultra-religious cult. Thought Jeremiah initially manages to bond with his cousin Buddy (Michael Pitt), life in the cult proves to be no safer than life with his mother. After three years with the cult, Jeremiah is standing on a street corner and yelling that everyone is going to go to Hell unless they repent when he is suddenly approached by Sarah. Sarah grabs him and carries him over to a nearby truck that is being driven by her current boyfriend.
Sarah now supports herself as a dancer and as a prostitute. When she realizes that the presence of her son is making men reluctant to pay for her, Sarah grows out Jeremiah’s hair and starts to dress him in her old clothes so that she can pass him off as being her younger sister.
Eventually, Sarah and Jeremiah find themselves living with amiable but slow-witted meth addict Jackson (Marilyn Manson) and that’s when things really start to head down hill…
In some ways, The Heart Is Deceitful About All Things is a difficult film to recommend because it is so extremely dark and depressing. Much as in her debut film, Scarlet Diva, Asia Argento refuses to compromise on the bleakness of her vision. She set out to make a realistic portrait of what it’s like to live on the fringes of American society and that’s exactly what she did. If the end result is depressing…well, the fringes aren’t exactly a happy place. In the end, you’re actually happy that the film is full of familiar actors like Argento, Michael Pitt, Peter Fonda, and Winona Ryder because you need that reminder that, ultimately, you’re watching a movie and that everyone was able to go home after they finished filming.
The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things may not be easy to enjoy but it is a film that, as a result of its uncompromising vision, ultimately wins your respect.