Roger Ebert has frequently stated that he rates films according to how well the filmmakers succeed at what they were aiming for. By Ebert's logic, Lukas Moodysson's A Hole in My Heart is a smashing success. Moodysson has stated in interviews that he intended his film to be off-putting to audiences, and it's certainly quite repugnant. It's unfortunate for us, however, that Moodysson didn't aim higher, because while A Hole in My Heart is composed almost entirely of images sure to ruin one's appetite, it's never truly disturbing, shocking or even particularly interesting. It's a pointlessly gross and stupid film that tries to say something insightful about porn, television and spiritual decay but, to paraphrase This is Spinal Tap, only treads in a sea of retarded sexuality.
In a cramped apartment, Rickard (Thorsten Flinck) and Geko (Goran Marjanovic) are busy making an amateurish porn starring Geko and Tess (Sanna Brading), a dim-witted young woman with aspirations of starring on Big Brother. The three descend into increasingly grotesque, extreme scenarios while Rickard's teenage son Eric (Bjorn Almroth) sulks in his bedroom with his pet worms and grating industrial music. And that's pretty much it - for 100 or so minutes, Richard and Geko (and Moodysson) do countless degrading things to Tess, who flees at one point only to return bearing junk food for further degradation. I'm not at all against extreme content in cinema; in fact, I'm always excited to discover filmmakers who are willing to examine uncomfortable or grotesque material with a seriousness and purpose, and I appreciate it when a filmmaker doesn't feel the need to block our eyes as if we were children. But A Hole in My Heart is a film composed entirely of extremes, edited in a series of epileptic jump cuts punctuated by screeching noise, that becomes wearyingly monotonous within minutes. I'm currently writing a screenplay set in and around a strip club, and I was at first confused by my instinct to include several moments of the characters performing mundane, everyday tasks (sleeping, watching tv, etc.). As the script has progressed, it's clearer to me that, if my film is to work at all, it needs the contrast between the characters' manufactured sexual personae and their unobserved selves. There's no such contrast in A Hole in My Heart, and in the absence of any genuine attempt at emotional authenticity, the characters are merely vehicles for Moodysson's skeezy, hyperbolic moralism.
The most pathetic thing about A Hole in My Heart is its complete failure even to shock us. It's disgusting in a way that comes off as cheating - it's easy to cut to, say, a close-up of vaginal reconstructive surgery without warning or context and get a reaction from the audience. It's harder to give such images real power or consequence. Directors like Todd Solondz, David Lynch and Michael Haneke give us films infinitely more disturbing than A Hole in My Heart with only a fraction of the overtly shocking imagery. They have the insight and craft to disturb us with the implications of their images - it's the ideas in Happiness or Blue Velvet that make those films so unsettling, not just the quantity of nipples or viscera on display. The irony of Moodysson's use of the confessional style of reality TV is that, while it's meant as a comment on the emptiness of popular culture, his film has even less to say (at least Big Brother is sometimes inadvertently insightful). I really wanted to "get" A Hole in My Heart, to have the geek show I'd endured arrive at the apocalyptic moment of truth it had promised. But by the time the film arrived at the image of a character vomiting into another's mouth with Bach's St. Matthew Passion blaring on the soundtrack, I could only laugh with rage at the purest marriage of pretension and idiocy I've ever seen.
A few days before seeing A Hole in My Heart, I watched Claire Denis' Trouble Every Day. It was the first of her films I'd seen, and while I didn't like it, it was made with an assuredness of tone and style that made me want to check out more of her work. I never, ever want to see another Lukas Moodysson film. I don't care if Together and Fucking Amal are cute, or that Lilja 4-ever was on a bunch of top-10 lists. I think Lukas Moodysson is an ass. I think he hates movies and everything else I hold dear. The fact that he's both a Socialist and a Christian isn't an interesting idiosyncracy, it just helps explain how a film could be so demoralizing and preachy at the same time. A Hole in My Heart is the work of a complete fraud; to arrive after 100 minutes of nihilistic ugliness at a group hug is a sick, insulting joke, and while the film has mostly been panned, it's geniunely baffling to read Reverse Shot's Eric Hynes praise it as "achingly humane." According to the film's IMDb trivia page, Thorsten Flinck had to turn to drugs to make it through the film's more harrowing scenes. I only wish I'd had as much foresight.