Buried deep within the arteries of Interiors’ ever-hardening heart lies a cruel, yet unmistakable truth: until such time that one’s mother lies buried in the earth – irrevocably dispatched to that great undiscovered country – full adulthood cannot be reached. So long as the maternal claw retains its vice-like grip on body and soul, one is still a child; a groping, simpering creature without form or structure. There is little to define one’s self save that relation to the cruel womb, and one’s gaze is permanently locked in a backwards glance, desperately seeking an approval that will never come. You see, for Woody Allen, the ultimate authority on all mothers, Jewish and otherwise (did he not label his own, via Manhattan, as “the castrating Zionist”?), the eyes of God are not heavenward or supernatural, but all-too-terrestrial in origin. We look to that woman for so much, it seems, from sustenance to succor, yet it is that final act that can and will be her greatest gift. It’s as old as the wilds of nature, where the grasp must yield to release, lest we depend too greatly. Dependence fosters ill-will, and at bottom, it stifles the very thing that defines us evermore – true, unvarnished independence, devoid of sentimentality. A life in full is on the offense, and the past a burden few can escape without deep, untreatable scars.
Consider the three sisters of this O’Neill-inspired journey – Joey (Mary Beth Hurt), Renata (Diane Keaton), and Flyn (Kristin Griffith) – all uniquely equipped to handle impending adulthood, yet similarly paralyzed by the tyranny of an unchanging godhead. She of the immovable marble, this Eve (Geraldine Page), a first woman only in her eternal stranglehold on humanity’s progeny to follow, swoops and snarls her way through the lives of her daughters, not through patience and acceptance and an instinct to receive, but judgments and impositions that hold her own perspective as the insidious, inflexible benchmark. She’s as remote and unfeeling as one of her prized vases, yet as lacking in the necessary shading of humanity. It’s fitting that Eve earns her bread as an interior designer, for it is control she seeks; inflicting her opinions on the unwitting with the finality of death itself. All must be in its place – all coordinated, structured, and fixed – not out of creative passion, mind you, but out of its direct, murderous opposite. For her, the world entire is a museum display; a butterfly under glass to be monitored by her eyes alone. It is as she wants it, with any and all movement an utter impossibility. Her children, then, are indistinguishable from the very furniture she pushes from wall to wall, united in the diminishing cocoon of voiceless inertia.
And while united by a blood tie too often assumed to be binding, the sisters are also soldiers in an undeclared war against their own best interests. Mother dear should be the target at which the spite and resentment of the ages is directed, but instead, Eve’s unseen hand has them dizzy with cannibalistic fury. We eat our own, it seems, to avoid the implications of matricide. One wonders how many of life’s backbreaking tribulations would have been lifted by a single snuffed candle in childbirth. At least we’d have the opportunity to idealize all out of proportion. Moms can be saints, then, if they lack a track record. Reality, via the day-to-day extractions of flesh, has a way of changing the story to feature a much less satisfactory resolution. In fact, it’s not even a resolution, for as long as Eve remains alive, Joey, Renata, and Flyn are prisoners of fate.
Flyn is the least defined of the trio, though her response to the unrelenting pinch has been an escape to flightiness, where her identity is the very lack of one. It’s no mistake that Woody has made her an actress, surely the most contemptible figure in the canon, and prime to be cast at the shallow end of the pool. Renata, the most intellectual and thoughtful sister, is suffocating under a pillow of unfulfilled longing, using poetry to cover her basic self-loathing. She writes to express, yet her expressions are mere approximations of her totality. She’s a partial creature; an ill-defined ghost among the living who sees her stunted gift as confirmation of her inability to act as a whole being. Still, she has her talent to mask her ultimate fears, and when the truth becomes too unbearable, she can open her veins not in fact, but on the page, a suicide by proxy that betrays her waiting game with mother. She could leave this mortal coil, but doing so before Eve would grant the old battle axe a victory she surely doesn’t warrant. And then there’s Joey, the mouse of the bunch, a young woman so steeped in feeling she substitutes tears and moans for actual personality. She yearns and feels like an idealistic college student, so her ultimate sin is the lack of ability beyond desire. “I feel the need to express something,” she drips, “But I don’t know what it is I want to express…Or how to express it.” Woody’s jab at a creative class more desirous of vainglory than lasting contribution, yes, but also the stand-in for anyone trying to break free of maternal shackles. The juices ebb in direct proportion to the vivacity of the monster who gave you life. Vanquished, the flow may continue.
“At the center of a sick psyche is a sick spirit,” Joey reasons, a realization that as mental illness offers an explanation, it fails necessarily to provide an excuse. “You’re not just a sick woman, that would be too easy,” she spits, facing her demon on a long, final night. “The truth is, there’s been perverseness, and willfulness of attitude in many of the things you’ve done.” At last, the burdened child holds the holy mother accountable, not for the stops and starts we’re all guilty of in the end, but rather the violations of an unseen contract between parents and their children. Expectations of fulfillment might be naïve at best, and self-destructive at worst, but they do in fact exist, creating a life-long dance with inevitable disillusionment. Eve, at bottom, did worship talent; she favored excellence and beauty and deference, and when violated, the cloak of maternity was yanked clean, leaving her brood bereft and confused.
Again, the only true and lasting exit is the grave. One’s own will do, of course, but it’s mom who must make the initial sacrifice. Eve seems to recognize this near the end, but her final act of self-slaughter seems less a tribute to her girls than a final gasp of narcissism; an “I’ll show you” display that gives a brutally selfish woman the last word. Eve walks into the sea after being replaced, so to speak, by a woman of generosity and inclusion, but more than that, it’s Joey’s final statement that seals the deal: “And we have no other choice but to forgive each other.” No, that won’t do. True forgiveness requires a full accounting; not an obligatory exchange of meaningless dialogue, but a cleansing unseen in all but the direst circumstances. In essence, what’s required is a death bed conversion, though one motivated not by the fear of eternity, but a need to embrace truth. Eve doesn’t have the stomach for such a journey, and would rather excuse herself from the table entirely than face the harsh light of interrogation.
Consider the final shot, where the sisters stand before a window, looking upon a new world without the very thing that has defined it for the entirety of their lives. This is the first real encounter with freedom; not merely the absence of tension, as Dr. King might have said, but the presence of justice. Life on its own terms, without an anchor or sense of permanence. In many ways, so long as Eve took breath, life could be deferred; kicked down the road until an undefined day took hold. That day is now here. And, in Woody’s radical vision, the ills that most define us, almost always, as they are, inflicted by the ones meant to shelter us from any manner of storm, have been cured at last by the only real thing that remains unchanging. Joey, Renata, and Flyn – average and ordinary in many respects, if more privileged than most – cannot be faulted for making the most common mistake of all, but with eyes now open, they can take responsibility at last.
Yes, we expect far too much from our parents – mothers most of all – and so many just try to make do in whatever way they know how, but when we come to believe in the heroic, or that they always have our best interests at heart, we take that first misstep towards misunderstanding. And when we look to them for love without conditions – the most wicked lie of all – we can never really go back. It’s always there, lurking about, waiting for any number of opportunities to color our thinking. Eve was a sinister woman; a lousy wife, an obnoxious friend, and yes, a bad mother. It happens. Our problem is thinking she could keep the roles separate and distinct, compartmentalized with undue complexity. As Pearl, the heir apparent, states during dinner, “You could live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to.” It’s the most damning thing she could have said to Eve’s children. For in the end, Eve wanted only to hold on – power for the sake of its exercise – and as such, she had nothing to give up save the grip she had on her girls. Upon release, she was no more. Lost at sea, having died to give life. “Yes, it’s very peaceful,” whispers Renata, gazing upon the Eve-free shore. More, perhaps, than she now realizes.