«Mothership» is a parable, a kind of «layer cake» stuffed with a multitude of meanings. The world of our characters Mavrina and Antaeus is dominated by an «ocean of darkness,» the quintessence of pain and loss, of the loneliness and dangers that inevitably lie in wait for us in the course of our lives, a metaphorical «evil» that takes away everything we value most. The darkness has taken Mavrina’s beloved husband from her and now threatens her son Antaeus, who has become her whole world. To protect him from the gloom that blocks out the sun and corrodes all living things, our lighthouse keeper tireless patches up her ark in the midst of an ocean of pain. It is no coincidence that Mavrina’s name comes from the ancient Greek «μαυρόω» [mavroo], or «darkening, obscuring.» A mother who obscures the dangers of the outside world from her son. A mother who bears the double burden of parenting after the loss of a husband. A mother willing to sacrifice everything for her child, including her own life. But each ship has its own voyage to make, and Mavrina finds the strength to lift her son above the abyss of all-dissolving gloom in order to let him go. I remember my adolescent years very well. During that time, my mother’s concern for me felt like an «anchor» holding back my ability to «take flight.» What I wanted most was to escape and «fly» towards my own future. A future however unclear, but my own. Only when I became a father did I fully understand how difficult it is to let go of a child’s hand in order to remove the «anchor» and give them the opportunity to go seeking their own path. To give your child «wings», with your love and trust, so that they can find their destiny and place in this difficult world, despite the dangers lying in wait all around. This story grips me. I’m always trying to make films that elicit vivid emotions in people. And if it also touches viewers, and they reflect on «what the author is trying to say,» then the film is a success.
Where did the idea for this animated film come from?
Polina Vlasova: «The idea for „Mothership“ came to me about seven years ago, when I was still a student. Back then, I really loved Brodsky’s „Ballad of a Little Tugboat.“ The story of a little boat that couldn’t break free of its oppressive environment that forced it to be a cog in the system resonated with me. I was especially impressed by the ending, which could be interpreted in two ways: at first it seems the boat has broken free and set out on a trip around the world, but then you realize he may have died, and then it’s more like a Valhalla of some kind. I think that kind of ambiguous reading also made its way into our film, though we aimed for a happy ending».
Maria Parfenova:«I’ve always been fascinated by marinas and ships sailing into the „unknown.“ Boats seem so defenseless against the enormous elements of the ocean... But they set out boldly towards their distant goal. Just like children who come into the world as fragile, inexperienced beings acquire „wings/sails“ through the love their parents bestow on him. The ship is a metaphor of freedom. A metaphor of parents’ hope that our children, like the steadfast little boat Antaeus, will escape the prison of stormy weather and be happy».
What is that Mavrina does?
Maria Parfenova: «Mavrina is not just a lighthouse keeper, but also the custodian of a small island of relative safety in the middle of a raging „ocean of darkness“ that’s corrosive to living things. Occasionally she’s visited by cyber-manatees: they’re sort of postmen bringing news from some distant and unreachable, sunlit world. But is there really a world without pain? This seems like an illusion to Mavrina, who’s suffered a heavy loss. After losing her faith in happiness, she tries to preserve her memory of it for the sake of the new life she’s carrying inside her».
How did the image of a son-ship come about?
Polina Vlasova: "The original idea was just an image of a man with the head of a ship. I kept trying to figure out how to make it work, and how I could present an idea like that to other people. I tried offering the story as the dream of a little boy who wants to travel. But then my teacher said it was the stupidest idea he’d ever heard, that there was no logic or plot to it, and that putting all the action inside a dream was a sign of an author’s impotence. I remember that phrase to this day.
Apparently, it just motivated me to continue working on the film. I drew sketches of the characters and the universe. Then the focus shifted away from the boy and towards the story of a mother and child living on an island. But in that version, it was a port city rather than a deserted reef. I started considering the story not just as the desire to set off for somewhere else, but as the story of separating from one’s mother. That’s when the boy with the tugboat head appeared. All in all, it was this image of ship’s head with a human body that compelled me to work all these years".
Why is the ocean surrounding Mavrina’s island poisonous?
Maria Parfenova: «The „ocean of darkness“ is a metaphorical image of Mavrina’s own pain of loss and dashed hopes for happiness, as well as those of everyone who comes into contact with it. It’s like a life full of danger, disappointment, bitterness, and longing for the unattainable El Dorado of hope»
Polina Vlasova: «When Maria Parfenova took over the script, she gave the film its ultimate plot. That’s when the acidic Ocean of darkness that surrounds our protagonists’ island from all sides arose. I think of it as frighteningly insidious, like all dangerous things: acid, radium, toxic mushrooms — all things that can kill us, not because they want to, but because it’s in their nature».
The ocean nearly kills Mavrina’s son Antaeus, so she makes him into a cyber-boy shaped like a boat with an anchor. What does that symbolize?
Maria Parfenova: «The image of a ship is a symbol of how each of us wants to set out on our first „big journey“ across the raging ocean of life. The anchor Mavrina hangs on Antaeus is a mother’s attempt to keep her son close to protect him from danger. At the same time, the ship reflects Antaeus’ destiny to help his mother navigate an ocean of pain and disappointment. After all, our children are the engine that drives us to develop and push forward, no matter what. And parental love is the great force that gives them „wings“ to fly».
What do you consider Mavrina’s great deed?
Polina Vlasova: «When I started working on the film, I related more with the child who wants to set out on his own, to get as far away from his parents as possible. I was working through my own trauma. But in the middle of the film, I became a mother myself. A dog mother. I don’t know if I could self-destruct for my „dog-son“ but I’ve gotten real-life familiarity with the problem of a runaway child. My dog regularly makes „suicide attempts“ and „leaps of faith“ under cars and scooters. That’s made me as much of an anxious mother as Mavrina, who doesn’t let her child wander more than three meters away from her. I just hope that, unlike Antaeus, my dog doesn’t run away from me in search of adventure».
Does Mavrina die?
Maria Parfenova: «Mavrina doesn’t die; she lives on within her son. Antaeus is based on Poseidon and Gaia’s son who received unconquerable strength from contact with his mother Gaia, the Earth. When he absorbs her strength, he flies over the «ocean of darkness» and takes the image of his mother with him into his bright future».