“Happy memories here. Other memories here.”
Joanna Hogg’s The Eternal Daughter is a film that is bound to memory—of times past, of love, of relationship. It is dark and moody attempt to uncover the mystery of a mother/daughter bond that seems a bit cold and distant. It is styled as a gothic ghost story, but we discover that what haunts us most deeply may not be a phantom, but what haunts us from within.
The tone of the film is set as we watch a taxi traveling through the fog on a lonely road with somewhat spooky music as background. It certainly has a Hitchcockian feel as the tracking shot goes on. When we move inside the cab we find Julie Hart and her mother Rosalind (both played by Tilda Swinton). Their destination is a Welsh hotel where Rosalind stayed as a child during the blitz, when it was her aunt’s estate. The driver tells a story of seeing a face in the window of the hotel, even though there was no one there.
At the hotel, there seems to have been some mix up in the reservation and Julie needs to spend time getting the proper room, although it seems like they are the only two staying there. Julie is trying to write a film about her mother’s life and has brought her here to hear and record her memories of that time. Each day they have an ongoing conversation in which each is a bit distant from the other. It is not that they don’t love each other, but rather that they have never learned how to express that love.
There is not a great deal of plot or conflict. This is a story that develops through quiet moments. The emptiness of the hotel reflects the relationship the two women are striving to explore. It is more than just trying to get the information Julie needs for her script. She wants to have a better understanding of her mother because their lives are so bound together. Who Julie is depends on who her mother is, and vice versa.
That mother/daughter bond is very much what Hogg is exploring in this film. Although so much of their lives has overlapped, they have each lived in very different times. The generational gap has shaped each to see and remember the world in different ways. The difficulty of the relationship makes this a very universal story, especially for mothers and daughters, but for other close relationships as well. The discomfort that Julie and Rosalind struggle with is something that we may all deal with at times. It could become something that haunts us if we never overcome it.
The Eternal Daughter is due out in theaters soon.
Photos courtesy of A24 Films.