Interiors (1978)

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Interiors opens with still shots of a beach house, and then we see Joey looking out the window with no expression.  She watches three children play on a beach, and it’s clear she’s reminiscing about her and her two sisters (Renata and Flyn).

Interiors is Woody Allen’s first dramatic film, and boy is it a doozy.  It’s not just a drama, but it’s also stark and bleak with almost no joy expressed amongst its characters.  It’s like every character is the personification of a mood of a different person in line at the DMV.

We follow the three sisters as well as their parents, Arthur and Eve.  At the dinner table one day, Arthur announces that, now with the daughters all grown up, he wants to move out.  Eve doesn’t take this well, but Arthur insists it’s only a trial separation even when it’s clear it’s more than temporary.

Joey worries about her mother even as she gets increasingly frustrated with her mother.  In one scene Eve tells Joey to tell Arthur that Eve is doing well and to test the waters to see if he’s interested in getting back together.  Joey wants to be realistic and honest with her mother: it aint gonna happen.  Joey accuses her sisters of trying to soften the blow and in turn giving Eve false hope.

Renata is the one Joey feuds with the most because she is around more often.  Flyn is an actress who is gone most of the time filming.

Renata is in her own unhappy relationship, and Joey’s relationship only seems marginally better.  Actually, that’s at first, but Renata’s husband Frederick tries to rape Flyn later in the film, so he gets scratched off the “World’s Best Husband Runner Up” list.

The film slowly builds to the attempted rape scene, showing Frederick as a bruised intellectual.  He’s moody, he drinks and he flirts with his wife’s sister.  He’s clearly unhappy.  He and Renata are both artists (as are Flyn and Joey, so everyone’s an artist), and you can picture a time when Renata and Frederick were happy as young artistic folk wildly in love.  Those days are long gone, and neither of them seems particularly interested in taking a U-turn back to those days, mostly because each is so focused on their own career.  It’s like they both are climbing a mountain, but they slowly realize they were happiest at base camp.  They can’t just go back to base camp because they still want to reach the summit, even if it’s less and less enjoyable, particularly as the oxygen levels go lower and lower.  That’s where the climbing analogy ends.

After the scene between Flyn and Frederick there is no comeuppance.  Instead, the story moves forward.  You get the sense that, while the action is horrible and vile, it’s also a reflection of the way these people pick each other apart emotionally.

To move on, no one’s happy, except maybe Arthur.  He’s at least the only one who tries to be happy.  Midway through the film he has a dinner with his daughters and their husbands.  Arthur brings Pearl, a pleasant enough woman, along with him, and Joey is a bit shocked.  All she can think about is what this will do to Eve.  Joey is riddled with guilt towards her mother, yet she’s the only one who can be honest with her.

Arthur and Pearl have only known each other a few weeks when Arthur tells the girls they’re getting married.  Joey and Renata try to talk him out of it, but they get married nonetheless.

The ceremony takes place in a large, mostly empty beach house to which we were first introduced at the very beginning of the film.  The first few shots in the movie show a static, empty and deathly quiet house.  During the wedding it’s full of life.  Not only that, but everyone wears muted and dark colors except for Pearl who’s dress is vibrant and full of life.

After the ceremony Pearl, a little intoxicated, just wants to dance.  Arthur goes to sit down so Pearl looks for another partner.  The options are Arthur’s daughters and the two sons-in-law.  All of them reject her politely.  This leaves Pearl to dance on her own in what is both a heartwarming and incredibly sad scene.

Everyone watches her, but Joey watches her most of all, with the glare of a hawk circling its prey.  You can tell Joey is just waiting for her to slip up, and Pearl does when she mistakenly knocks over a vase so that it crashes to the floor.  Joey yells at her and we’re sad again.

Earlier in the film Renata talks to the camera while in a therapy session.  This is the only thing familiar to other Woody Allen films.  In this session Renata smokes and talks about mortality and cries.  That’s probably the best symbol for this film.  On one occasion she gets more specific and describes her mother’s mental instability.  Renata wonders if she will suffer from a similar condition.

Well, in the middle of the night after the wedding ceremony, Joey talks to her mother who isn’t there.  Joey walks into a dark hallway so that she is completely silhouetted and she becomes reduced to a shape with nothing inside but darkness.

Joey finally says to her mother, “there’s been a perverseness and willfulness of attitude in many of the things you’ve done,” implying that it goes beyond her mother being sick.  This contrasts nicely with Joey’s introduction in the film, defending her mother to her husband because “she’s a sick woman.”

It also turns out that Joey might be similarly sick.  The fact that Arthur is constantly so concerned about Joey might be because he sees so much of Eve in her.

Well, Pearl overhears Joey’s monologue and comes downstairs.  Whereas once Joey stared daggers at Pearl, now it’s Pearl’s opportunity to have the power of the gaze.

Joey then watches her mother leave the house and run into the ocean to die.  Joey desperately sprints in after her, but her husband Michael saves her.

The next thing we see is a casket with the family walking up one by one.  The last person to approach is Joey.  The casket, in case you didn’t guess, is Eve’s.

The story ends with Joey writing in her journal and narrating to the audience about times when things were happy.  We see silent flashbacks of Eve as a young woman with three young children when things were good.

Soooooo…. what happened to Woody?

He wanted to be taken seriously as a filmmaker so he made this, to prove he wasn’t just a comedian.

This story feels like a play on screen.  It’s a personal drama with a bunch of characters who have a lot going on inside their heads.  It still feels Woody Allen-esque because he’s a thinker, and he likes to analyze what people (mainly himself) are thinking.  The film, after all, is called Interiors.  The title also refers to Eve’s profession as an interior designer.  She’s so careful about arranging everything exactly the way it should be so that she’s presenting a very carefully-constructed image.

We first see this when she comes over to Joey and Michael’s home.  She and Michael do not agree on the design she picked out, and this is when Joey must defend Eve to her husband.  It’s also interesting that we first see Eve interact with Michael before any of her children.  This further isolates her from her family.  Everyone in the family is distant and alone.

I got the sense that Eve didn’t really get involved with interior design until after she had some mental health issues so that the interior design became another symptom.  You can also look at the idea of presenting a false facade as something the entire family does.

Even Arthur probably pretended to be a family man until he thought he could get out.  Anyone who’s in an unhappy relationship but avoids the issue of breaking up is putting up a facade.  Every couple seems unhappy to some degree, and Arthur is the only one brave enough to leave his.  God, Pearl is so nice and so picked on by Joey.

This is such a complex but nasty family.  I want to grab Woody Allen by the shoulders and say “PEOPLE CAN BE COMPLEX WITHOUT BEING SO NASTY.”

I didn’t like this film at first, but it definitely got better.  It really is like an onion, and Allen slowly peels back the layers, but you don’t cry as it happens because you’re wearing your onion-protective glasses.  The story is so overtly bleak that it’s hard to be emotional when things go south.  There’s no buildup to show things as happy, at least not until the very end.

Because we never see these characters in happy environments, we don’t know what’s at stake as they get more and more sucked in to the family’s troubling death spiral.  Sure we know things aren’t going well, but I found it hard to really care.  The only person I really cared about was Pearl because she had to deal with so much but she seemed so nice and well-rounded.  She adopted a puppy and it bit her.

Arthur’s not bad either.  He wants to be happy, and he knows it’s important to try to be happy, so that’s a good sentiment.

Then Joey gets some sympathy because we see just how tortured and twisted up inside she is.

When Joey journals about her mother, the shots we see of young Eve show her putting up a Christmas tree.  You can still see that as her constructing the image of a happy family as we now know the seeds of what their family became are probably already there.

So the movie ends with the three sisters looking out the window of the beach house together.  They are inevitably closer than they once were, having all witnessed the collapse of their parents’ marriage from close range, yet they wear black and stand motionless.  They all seem to acknowledge a yearning for their childhoods and once strong relationships, but they don’t know how to get there.

In terms of where this stands among Woody Allen films, it’s just incredibly jarring.  If you were to follow his career, you’d think he was lobotomized and made this.  It’s like when Will Ferrell or Jim Carrey decide to make a film in which they’re not incredibly wacky.

There are a couple moments that made me jump in Interiors.  The first is about 30 minutes in, around the time we enter the second act: the sound of someone stripping black tape and putting it on the walls.  It turns out to be Eve, and this is right before a suicide attempt.  In screenwriting, the first act ends with the “lock in.”  Basically, you’re in for the ride, there’s no turning back.  In this film, it’s as if we’re introduced to the family, and then we know we’re locked in when we see close ups of hands covering the doors with this black tape so we’re isolated.  Eve then sits back and drinks some wine before we cut to an ambulance taking her to the hospital.  This is what we’ve saddled in for.

The other jarring moment involves Arthur and Eve in an empty church.  It’s a little more straightforward: Arthur tells her he wants to finalize the divorce and she swings her hand, knocking glass candles shattering loudly to the ground.

This entire movie is jarring, and that’s the point.  I believe Allen stated once that he wanted to make a completely humorless movie (good job), and it would be a long-con kind of joke wherein he pulled the rug out from under us, the audience.  This may have been foreshadowed in his initial idea of having Virgil get shot up like Bonnie and Clyde at the end of Take the Money and Run.  His editor, Ralph Rosenblum convinced him it would be too much of a downer.  Well now Allen has made enough films that he’s confident enough to do it, so he does.

This movie is like if Judd Apatow’s next film was Sophie’s Choice, but if, you know, it wasn’t already a movie.

Lastly, the one quote from Interiors that I think best sums up the story is delivered by Renata to her father: “It’s hard not to argue that in the face of death, life loses real meaning.”

I realized I was looking for hope in the ending, but there isn’t any.  None of the characters find meaning in anything, and they hide their pain under calm exteriors.  It’s a spin on Woody Allen’s messages from his previous films. He used to say that everything is so ridiculous that nothing matters, but in a good way.  Now he’s saying everything’s pretty dire and nothing matters, in a bad way.

Up Next: Manhattan (1979), Stardust Memories (1980), A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)

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