There are those of us who have come to the conclusion—after much contemplation, after years of attending church and Bible Study, after listening to our mom’s Mahalia Jackson records every Christmas, after countless conversations with believers and non-believers alike—that God is…weird.
If God is real, God is weird. And if God is an idea, it’s a weird idea. For some of us, the moment we realized this, and really started to embrace it, was also the moment we could no longer call ourselves Christian (though of course, it’s never a moment, but a series of moments that unfold over time). If I’d been given space in my church to explore God’s weirdness—and, especially, all the unanswered and unanswerable questions that come with it—I might have been able to stay in the church. But I wasn’t, so I didn’t. So I try to find God in other hopeless places. Or maybe I just wrote that because I love Rihanna, and I’m in an especially weird mood after watching the short film from Meredith Alloway, Interior Teresa.
Alloway’s short has a big job to do in just 14 minutes: It has to be “about God,” and in this case, satisfy a film critic who expects a film about God to inevitably attempt to do far too much. Which is where Alloway succeeds as a writer/director. Instead of asking those big questions—or worse, putting them in the mouth of her protagonist—she focuses on telling a small story about a young, flighty woman, Teresa (Kara Young), who has mysterious visions. Are the visions from God? If so, what do they mean? In another film, attempts at answers to these questions might have resulted in a fumbling mess of philosophy, or an overly serious approach that refused to “let the mystery be” (a la on of the The Leftovers’ theme songs). What a relief that after her first vision, Teresa is startled by another person (at least, we think that’s what’s happening) in the sanctuary, and jumps up screaming, “What the fuck? Father Jake!” There’s a levity to the story that works beautifully against the bigger questions looming in Teresa’s mind.
Not unlike Patricia Arquette’s Frankie Paige from the 1999 film Stigmata, Teresa presents as an unlikely recipient of spiritual gifts. There’s a casual air about her—she’s casual about sex, casual about her volunteer cleaning “job” at a church and casual about smoking up in said church later in the short, as the weirdness of her day progresses. With such a protagonist, Interior Teresa leans into that strangeness in the very question of God. If God chooses certain people, whom does He choose and why? Why are some of the people we least expect, chosen to carry certain spiritual burdens? Again, Interior Teresa allows us to ask such questions as we watch Teresa bumble about in the church, but it never promises answers. Teresa herself is presented with another gifted character in the way of Major (Jake Cannavale), who ends up transforming into an interior monologue turned outward. They become fast friends, though it soon becomes clear that what Teresa sees is not necessarily what the rest of the world sees. Does that make her gifted, or godly? Maybe.
And a “maybe” is more profound than it sounds—more refreshing than any other answer Alloway might have given. Embracing “maybe” is, in fact, what made The Leftovers one of the greatest TV dramas of all time, and it’s what is so often lacking from conversations (the reals ones and the fictional ones happening in TV and film) about religion, spirituality and God. “Maybe” is as weird and open-ended as a god who bestows visions upon the young, unexpecting (and often, seemingly ill-prepared) people who often make up stories like this. “Maybe,” in conversations about God, often sounds as strange as the true story of St. Teresa of Avila, who inspired this short.
With the help of DP Elle Schnieder, and solid performances from her cast, Alloway has created a strong debut that leans into questions of faith and spirituality, with the understanding that, more than in answers—more than in confirmations, or denunciations—story is often found in the very act of leaning into God, or at least into the idea of it. A filmmaker who understands that “maybe” allows for mystery, and is almost always more interesting than a “yes” or “no,” is a filmmaker invested in the story and the telling of it—no matter how big the issue seems to be. For those of us interested in more explorations of faith (especially through the lens of female protagonists), Interior Teresa is a satisfying work that, hopefully, marks the beginning of Alloway’s future in short- and long-form storytelling.
You can watch Alloway’s short film here.
Shannon M. Houston is a Staff Writer on Hulu’s upcoming series The Looming Tower and Amazon’s Homecoming. She is the former TV Editor of Paste Magazine, and her work has appeared in Salon, Indiewire’s Shadow and Act, and Heart&Soul. She currently has more babies than you. You can follow her on Twitter.