“This film is not as extraordinarily, deeply, overwhelmingly revealing as the two Souvenir movies, and thus, can’t sustain bigger flourishes or gestures as easily. It’s not quite as strong or as encompassing. But it’s still an engaging and even fundamental complement to what’s come before it.”
by Ken Bakely
A sequel, of sorts, to The Souvenir and The Souvenir Part II, Joanna Hogg’s The Eternal Daughter keeps asking questions about the processes, mindsets, and personal journeys that contribute to making art. It’s an even more intimate film than its predecessors, an abstract, almost-ghost-story that gently but thoughtfully examines its main character’s quest to understand someone else’s life. Decades after the events of its predecessors, Julie (now played by Tilda Swinton) is a middle-aged filmmaker who has set off on a trip with her elderly mother, Rosalind (still played by Tilda Swinton) to the country estate where Rosalind spent much of her childhood. It’s now a boutique hotel with no other visible guests. The only mainstays are a surly receptionist (Carly-Sophia Davies), and a much friendlier groundskeeper (Joseph Mydell). Rosalind’s birthday is fast approaching, and Julie has taken her here to celebrate, but she also is working on a new script, and she intends to use stories from her mother’s life as inspiration. But Julie finds herself curiously unable to write, as this locale inspires an unplaceable but overwhelming sense of dread that only grows worse at night. The weather is awful, the building creaks and howls, and the darkened hallways are cast in low, eerie glows. Even when daylight rises, these haunted feelings don’t go away. Julie asks Rosalind about her memories of the house, and she answers each time with unsparing detail and honesty, unveiling the complex and sometimes tragic history trapped between these walls. Through all of this, her daughter’s quest to understand exactly what this place represents is deeply, perhaps impossibly, complicated; as intangible as anything else on these strange and storied grounds.
Naturally, the movie comes to rest on Swinton’s shoulders in her dual performance. Her work is genuinely fascinating – Julie is unquestionably leading the film, and the contrasting rapport that she develops with Rosalind’s more pensive personality form the basis of the story’s interrogative core. But while Julie might learn individual facts about her mother, The Eternal Daughter is not about these revelations as much as it is about what it means to learn them in the first place, and how this affects her as a person and as an artist. Despite the notion that Swinton is playing two characters, her acting is deliberately and pointedly internal. If The Souvenir and its sequel were explicitly about memory, then this film is about asking questions – not necessarily finding answers, mind you, but peeling back the individual layers. You can always keep going. Julie has come to this house to find out what it “means” to her mother; to assign a meaning to this house and to the memories that come from within it. When Rosalind shares the more harrowing moments of pain and grief that have transpired within it, Julie is taken aback, horrified that she has brought her to this place. But Rosalind tells her that is the wrong reaction – that, in so many words, to assign that article in “a meaning” is incorrect. There is meaning, there is history, and all of it, good and bad, exists at once. A pivotal conversation with Bill toward the end of the film. returns a similar thought. All of these feelings coexist, as indistinct from each other as the harrowing, disquieting sensations that Julie (and Julie alone, apparently) feels as she wanders through the hotel. And that, maybe, is the scariest idea of all.
She is now left with the lingering mystery of what she actually intends to do, now that she’s received these stories she sought and has to translate them into her work. In a sense, everything is passing down to her with the passage of time, becoming a custodian of this past, alone with it. The Eternal Daughter communicates in such misty, ghostly wisps that this idea settles in pretty easily, to the point where a quasi-climactic reveal, intended to sharpen Hogg’s points, plays as a tad redundant. This film is not as extraordinarily, deeply, overwhelmingly revealing as the two Souvenir movies, and thus, can’t sustain bigger flourishes or gestures as easily. It’s not quite as strong or as encompassing. But it’s still an engaging and even fundamental complement to what’s come before it. Hogg has asked what it means to turn deeply personal experiences into art that others can connect to, but what happens when we move a level further, and ask about the influence of others in those very experiences? If one is trying to figure out exactly where they end and someone else begins in that process, they will fail. And here – within this faintly otherworldly setting; within the contours of Ed Rutherford’s cinematography that’s somehow vividly hyperreal and distantly foggy at once; and within the quietly astonishing interplay created by Swinton’s performance(s) – we see that internal struggle realized with searching deliberation.
Watch: Prime Video