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Jonathan Morris
Jonathan Morris

The Eternal Daughter

I don't know the answer, and I don't know if Hogg does, either. But I'm grateful to have spent time with these two characters and the great actor who plays them. Swinton's casting isn't just a stunt; it brilliantly conveys the uncomfortable transference of identity that often happens between mothers and daughters. At the same time, when they communicate, Julie and Rosalind show a certain reserve, shying away from confrontation or even emotion. But the shattering climax of The Eternal Daughter is nothing if not emotional. It leaves us with the intriguing notion that maybe all love stories are ghost stories, to the degree that we're all haunted, in some way, by the memories of those we love.

The Eternal Daughter

In her two performances, Swinton manages to deliver the painful nuances of the mother-daughter relationship. Julie carries with her a kind of guilt. She tries her best to care for her mother. But she also wants to coax stories of the past from her for a film she is working on. At times, she records her reluctant mother without her consent. Hogg and Swinton depict the kind of relationship that is loving but not always intimate. The kind that reveals how we can be close to someone without fully knowing them. When we see Julie and Rosalind in conversation, Hogg shoots them mostly in shot/reverse shot. A decision presumably born, in part, out of ease for shooting a single actor carries with it the effect of exacerbating this feeling. Of showing how while they may be physically close, an emotional chasm exists.

It is difficult to say more about the story without giving too much away, as discovering what there is to discover about The Eternal Daughter is an important part of the experience. The ostensibly simple film proves more slippery than it seemed at first glance, but at 96 minutes and featuring a very small range of characters, it is quite lean. The overall effect is really the product of a handful of artistic choices, and they work best when the audience truly takes them in and considers what they might mean. The ghost story trappings, for instance, invite questions of what a ghost is, and what it can mean to be haunted. Julie and Rosalind are in a place that holds much significance for the latter, triggering in her a constant stream of reminiscences, but it is the former whose experience there borders on the supernatural. Why could that be? Rosalind speaks of the memories she made in the manor being "alive" here - could those same memories, then, be "dead" for Julie? Is trying to reach out and touch the experiences of another, whether as daughter to mother or artist to subject, like piercing the veil?

Crucial here, too, is the narrative's meta nature. In The Eternal Daughter, Julie aims to make a movie about her mother, which is exactly what Hogg has done with this film. Swinton's casting takes on new meaning in this context, and not just because it references The Souvenir and thereby brings this element to the fore. Having the same actor play both daughter/filmmaker and mother/subject, particularly with the agony Julie displays at even approaching this material, comes across as a tacit acknowledgment of the limit of Hogg's perspective.

The best film about her mother she can make ends up being about their relationship, and so heavily refracted through her own prism that the two characters end up shadows of one another. This, perhaps, is one way to understand the title: The role of daughter, despite her efforts, cannot be sublimated into the role of filmmaker. But there are other ways to read it, stemming from other facets of the movie not expounded on here, that are best for viewers to decipher themselves. For those inclined, the process of teasing them out is truly rewarding.

The Eternal Daughter comes to no happy conclusion about the relationship between mother and daughter, nor does it answer all the questions we may have for our parents. In the end, maybe the best we can hope to do is make peace with our own ghosts.

Ros becomes as tough to grasp for her daughter as a resolution to the lingering sense that something is just a bit off about the hotel. From the opening scene in which the cabbie transporting them warns of seeing faces in one of the hotel windows during the winter, discontent gnaws away at Julie. This manifests in everything from her frustrated interactions with a mercurial front desk employee (Carly Sophia-Davies), so droll in their unspoken sense of class conflict that they could have been beamed in from The White Lotus, to the late-night walks around the premises trying to identify the source of mysterious noises. These are sensations that Julie can recognize when they stir her, but finding the words to express just how they do so takes so long that, by then, she no longer feels them. Instead of trying to articulate the mysterious mood, she often remains in a state of stupefied silence.

However, there is something a little cold about this film. While that can be expected in a movie about a mother and daughter who struggle, at times, to fully connect, in a big, vacant hotel -- there is a lack of emotion for us to invest in. Swinton makes this entirely watchable though, bringing such nuance to both of her roles. It's a remarkable feat that the film is mostly conversations between Julie and her mother Rosalind, and Swinton is playing them both. But the film thrives mainly in its mysterious, elusive edge, posing a number of questions, most of which remain unanswered.

Joanna Hogg, the British director noted for her shrewd studies of middle class anxieties, borrows techniques and motifs from ghost stories for this uncanny portrait of a mother-daughter relationship, told exclusively through time spent at an out of the way hotel. This hotel is well-chosen. A sprawling old country pile, it is seemingly almost deserted and appears to be miles from anywhere. The wind whistles through the trees. A shadow looms in the corridor. A pale face appears at a window. Everything creaks. Memories stalk both mother and daughter. 041b061a72

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