'The Eternal Daughter' is ghostly and deeply layered
Director Joanna Hogg’s film The Eternal Daughter is one of the best movies of the year. It follows her 2019 movie The Souvenir, which was one of the best movies of that year, and last year’s The Souvenir Part II, which was even better than part one. You may be noticing a pattern.
Both parts of The Souvenir were semi-autobiographical, with Honor Swinton Byrne more or less standing in for Hogg as a woman named Julia, and Honor’s actual mother, Tilda Swinton, playing Julia’s mother, Rosalind. And The Eternal Daughter is not exactly The Souvenir Part III, but it does find Julia and Rosalind together quite a few years later, this time with both women being played by Tilda Swinton. The two are at an old English manor that’s been converted into a hotel, a place Rosalind used to visit as a child when it was a family estate, and Julia is trying to write a film based on her mother’s experiences there. The women seem to be the only people staying at the hotel, despite struggling on the first night to get the surly receptionist to give them a room at all.
Old English manor, empty rooms and hallways… you may be getting hints of this already, but what Hogg does stylistically with this film is wondrous, as she approaches it all as if it were a Victorian ghost story, with fog outside the windows and near-constant howling wind, creaks and bumps in the night, and the general feeling that there’s something there we can’t see. And there is something there, notably Rosalind’s memories, some of which are lovely, some of which are deeply painful, all of them hiding in large rooms and around corners. Hogg doesn’t stage any of this dramatically, it’s primarily just conversation between Tilda and Tilda, coupled with this meticulously constructed atmosphere, but it results in a story that’s sneaky in its complexity, causing us to think about who really should have access to others’ memories, the blurry lines between mother and child, and our desperate capacity to feel guilty for things we shouldn’t.
Joanna Hogg is a master at framing the people and places you see on screen, and the way she shoots Tilda Swinton’s interactions with herself makes perfect use of this skill. We eventually understand why we’re seeing things the way we are, and it adds yet another rich layer to this delicately haunting story.
The Eternal Daughter is in limited theatrical release and on VOD.