Heartless: Urban Crime As Faustian Pact

11/17/2010 4:00 AM |


Directed by Philip Ridley

It’s not that the world has gone to hell in Heartless—it’s that Hell has gone to the world! What if, wonders this grungy, trippy, thoughtful moral-horror-fable, those nihilistic East London delinquents that Harry Brown preferred to plug were actually agents of Satan? Jamie (Jim Sturgess) is the first person to discover this demonic conspiracy, because he kinda bridges the divide between humans and supernatural evil. He’s Two Face, with a huge heart-shaped birthmark over his eye, a sort of perpetual shiner that makes him look like Harvey Dent after the acid. Not unlike many a misguided gangbanger, he lacks a father, and so falls under the corrupting influence of a figure who’ll fill that hole; the character is even called “Papa”! And Papa B (Joseph Mawle) offers to remove that disfiguring birthmark with magic—and thus, to Jamie’s mind, to give him a chance of finding panacean love—if Jamie will add some chaos to the world: like, graffiti? Or maybe just some gruesome murders? Heartless sets up a textbook moral dilemma, getting at the, er, heart of capitalism: is it OK to hurt others for our own happiness? (Or, in order to avoid fates even worse than loneliness, like eternal damnation?) As such, once-celebrated writer-director Ridley, who hasn’t made a movie in 15 years, gets at something about ghetto life: that its ostensible chaos isn’t chaotic at all. It’s pre-determined by higher classes, who selfishly take whatever they want—those below them be damned.

Opens November 19