After arriving to downtown Toronto after my ummmm… ‘incident’ at the airport this morning, I checked into my hotel, picked up my pass and registration bag (nice job on Industry Registration TIFF! Painless…), and high-tailed it over to the Varsity theaters for my first screening of the day, Lukas Moodyson’s A HOLE IN MY HEART. I was plenty early (45 min), so I just walked in and sat down. It was pretty much empty, but soon the room filled to capacity. We were blissfully unaware of the scene outside the doors.
And what to say about the film… It was one of the most disturbing, yet profoundly humanist films I have ever seen. It would be impossible for me to avoid the particulars when writing about the film, so the review, with a frank discussion of graphic plot details, continues after the obligatory click below…
“…it is not far to the Big Brother house, and from Action Man and Barbie it is not far to www.gagfactor.com; but suddenly Christina Aguilera appears in a painting by Hieronymus Bosch and sings that she’ll never give up and those words spin around your head during the whole shoot and you believe she’s singing this because she (or God or someone else) doesn’t want you to give up either. You will make several films. Even though you injure yourself every time.”
— Lukas Moodysson, in the film’s press notes.
A Hole In My Heart is the story of Eric (Björn Almroth), the introverted and disfigured son of an alcoholic home pornographer named Rickard (Thorsten Flink) who, along with his friend Geko (Goran Marjanovic), spends his time pushing the psycho-sexual limitations of Tess (Sanna Bråding) with his Mini DV camera in hand. While the trio drink and copulate in the living room, Eric spends his time in his bedroom, voyeuristically observing their actions (much like his father with the camera) before withdrawing in disgust and listening to industrial noise in his headphones. When he has seen enough, he retreats from the degradation taking place in his home, creating an imaginary life where he receives the maternal attentions of Tess, exacts a bloody revenge on Rickard, and offers his own philosophical critique of pornography, warfare, and masculinity (which many may tend to assume are actually the thoughts and judgments of the director.)
Despite the intensely graphic visuals which include a repeated scene of labial reduction surgery (juxtaposed with a rubber vagina), open heart surgery, the sexual mutilation of Barbie dolls, and the inter-personal exchange every type of bodily fluid in the known universe, Moodysson’s film is really about the human response to our fate, both biological and social. The film uses every shocking tool available to a filmmaker (screeching sound, graphic visuals, intense sexual situations) to underscore what I believe is the fundamental argument of the film; We cannot disassociate ourselves from the primacy of our biology. We are alone in the world, yet interconnected with other human beings at the same time. Whether that means the destiny of the family we are born into, the biological destiny of our physical bodies, or our overriding physical desires and urges, the film presents the human body like no film ever has before.
Moodysson allows his camera to prowl around the walls and floors of the tiny apartment, intimately detailing the dark and hidden corners of the dismal environment. In the same way, the camera explores every inch of flesh of the actors, exposing the hidden and visually ‘taboo’ geography of the body. In this regard, the film is a scathing critique of pornography and the pretensions of fame the industry aspires to. If you think pornography is sexy, Moodysson seems to be saying, let me show you what it really is. There are numerous close-ups of human flesh, human organs, eyes, blood, fluids. The fragile and mysterious reality of human life is exposed, much like a visual telling of Georges Bataille’s Histoire de l’oeil.
As an example, to illustrate the depths of her exposure and violation, Tess uses the rubber vagina to demonstrate the specificity of her alienation; She points to the small piece of rubber flesh between her vagina and rectum and says “No one has ever touched me here.” The bodies in the film are also compared constantly to inanimate objects, both externally (through the Barbie dolls and rubber vagina) and internally (food objects, animal organs). Despite the shock of the sexual activities (which include simulated rape, an orgy of food, etc.), the film is primarily an exploration of the psychological deficiencies of its characters. If the film were simply a graphic series of situations and images, it would be outrageous and indefensible. Instead, I believe the images serve to outline the characters fundamental needs and desires, their fantasies and interior life.
Each character is allowed a moment of escape and introspection. Eric finally has a heart to heart conversation with the bloodied corpse of his father after he fantasizes about murdering him with an air pistol. Geko falls asleep during intercourse and dreams of running in a wheat field, escaping into innocence. Rickard drinks himself into a frenzy, and plots to beat his elderly father, who molested him. Tess, frightened by the rape ‘role-play’, escapes from the deteriorating physical environment of the apartment (the physical space’s condition echoing the deterioration of the characters sexual play and psychology), only to return after being bored stiff by the unhappiness of the outside world. Each of us has our reasoning. We are a biological body and a transcendent brain.
The festival catalogue describes the film as a pitch black critique of reality television in the tradition of the Marquis de Sade, but I think this description misses the point entirely. Where de Sade outlined the sexualization of aristocratic exploitation and priviledge, Moodysson’s film is about family, exploitation and community, about human need and desire, and ultimately the loss of self-control and introspection that leads to the degradation of the people we care about the most. Instead of another family drama that implies dysfunction in hushed tones, Moodysson has externalized these human faults into physical and sexual images and situations that demonstrate the failure of our values without ever condescending to the characters. No matter what else is to be said, the bar has been raised. John Cameron Mitchell’s Short Bus may have just been rendered unnecessary. I expect A Hole In My Heart will draw massive walk outs and outrage should it EVER see the light of day in an American movie theater (it is an ‘X’ without hesitation), but before audiences allow the power of the images to turn them off, I hope they give the film a chance and see it for what it truly is, the exposure of exploitation and the deep human search for a physical connection to desire and community.