There is a special and emphatic connection between mothers and daughters which links them together in a crucial and lifelong way. Is there a daughter anywhere who can say that she is not carrying within her psyche and conscience a portion of her mother? And is there a mother anywhere who will not honestly admit that, although her daughter may not be near her physically, she resides in her heart and lingers in her consciousness? Both mother and daughter are at some point in time on their own. But they remain deeply embedded in each other as well.
Woody Allen's first dramatic film explores the disastrous results of cultivated interiority as practiced by Eve (Geraldine Page), a New York decorator; and her daughters Renata (Diane Keaton), an accomplished poet; Joey (Marybeth Hurt), an unhappy woman with the temperament of an artist but not the talent; and Flyn (Kristin Griffith), a moderately successful TV star. Eve has been unhinged by a trial separation initiated by her husband (E.G. Marshall). Although she has suffered two mental breakdowns and attempted suicide as a result of her inability to deal with this trauma, she still presumes to dominate her three daughters as she did during their childhoods. They in turn are at a loss to know how to handle the unsettling situation. Renata, who feels rejected by both parents, tries to cheer Eve up with false predictions that she can reconcile with her husband. All this daughter receives in response are complaints about her aloofness as an artist. Joey, who has always been her father's favorite, refuses to fuel her mother's hopes; she then must endure Eve's protests and hurt looks. Flyn is generally out of the picture, living in California. In point of fact, none of her daughters can win Eve's approval nor save her from drowning in self-pity.
When their father returns from a trip to Europe with Pearl (Maureen Stapleton), a vibrant, earthy matron, and declares their intention to marry, all the pent-up fears, frustration, and competition between Eve and her daughters is set loose. The whole family seems poised on the edge of the void. The warmth that Renata, Joey, and Flyn have missed from their mother has affected their relationships with men. Renata's marriage to Frederic (Richard Jordan), a self-abusive novelist, is unsatisfying to both of them; he has begun to regard her words of encouragement with the same disdain her mother has for them. Joey's affair with Mike (Sam Waterston) is also wobbly; she doesn't know what she wants to do with her life and can't convey her feelings to him. Flyn comes across as equally unsure of herself and unable to give affection. All three daughters have very low opinions of themselves. They haven't been given the necessary motherly nurture; now that Eve needs them, they are incapable of responding.
There is a claustrophobic feel to Interiors. Cinematographer Gordon Willis keeps the shots up close and the outdoor imagery spare. This tone intensifies the impression that Eve and her daughters, despite their mutual interest in the arts, are sealed off from each other, walled up in their own interiors. Their inwardness leads not to rejuvenation (like the interior journeys of so many artists) but rather to anxiety. The only one with any spark of confidence in this drama is Pearl and she passes through like a hot breeze in a chilly room.
Interiors has received a mixed response from the critics and the public. It has been acclaimed by some as a cinematic masterpiece. Not quite although it is certainly one of the year's finest American films. Woody Allen has proven that seriousness is at the heart of a comic soul. On the other hand, Interiors has been criticized by some for its heavy debts to Ingmar Bergman and for Allen's refusal to suggest a way out of the labyrinth of hopelessness which entraps Eve and her daughters. Not so. The Bergman influence is there but Allen's art is peculiarly his own. It has a decidedly American psychoanalytic foundation and a specific urban temper. To condemn this movie because it offers no grace or redemptive comedy is to ask more of the film than it should be expected to give. Its razor-sharp view of mother-daughter distress is a shrill siren which may because of the severity of its tone help many see the light. Or to put it another way, Interiors tells its story so convincingly within the house of negation and emptiness that, by the rule of opposites, it offers us a clear picture of what a healthy mother-daughter relationship must entail. And the first ingredient is an ability to deal honestly and openly with each other. The daughter must be willing to confront both the good and the bad mother and forge out an adult response consistent with her own self.