The Eternal Daughter review – double Tilda Swinton haunts Joanna Hogg ghost story


This psychological mystery from Joanna Hogg is a personal film that shares similarities with her previous Souvenir films. It’s a ghost story with a different purpose than just scaring the audience, delving into the enigma of our parents’ lives and their unknowable existence before and after our own. It explores the feeling of both familiarity and mystery surrounding our parents, who are like old slippers yet also a Sphinx-riddle, keeping the meaning of our lives and deaths hidden from us. Perhaps the only way to understand is to become our parents and experience their emotions from within, but even then, we may never be entirely sure.

Actress Tilda Swinton delivers a heartfelt and cleverly distinctive performance as a filmmaker who takes her aging mother to a country house hotel to celebrate her birthday. Interestingly, the hotel was once a private estate where her mother spent time as a child. Swinton’s character also hopes to make progress on her latest screenplay during the trip. In a dual role, Swinton portrays both the daughter and the affable and aristocratic mother, whose true membership in high society is evidenced by bringing her dog, Louis, along. (It should be noted that director Joanna Hogg playfully challenges traditional class indicators by having the mother expect fish knives at dinner, in defiance of Betjeman’s well-known satirical disdain for such cutlery.)

Hogg orchestrates conversations between Swinton’s daughter and mother through shot-reverse-shot exchanges, leaving the audience wondering if they will ever appear on screen together. When this finally happens, it marks a significant shift in the story. The hotel adds to the unsettling atmosphere, with a mysterious lack of other guests and the daughter being kept awake by unexplained noises. The receptionist, played by Carly-Sophia Davies, is rude and reminiscent of Fawlty Towers, while the concierge (Joseph Mydell) shows empathy towards the daughter and is revealed to be the source of the haunting flute music heard at the beginning of the film. This reveal would be comical in a different type of movie.

The mother is kind and cheerful, happy with her gifts and attention, but the daughter can sense that her mother is hiding deep sadness or pain. This has been evident throughout her life. The daughter is upset and even frustrated that her mother won’t open up to her. Returning to their old home brings back memories, many of which are sad, and the mother is confused by her daughter’s emotional reaction. As part of an older generation that suppresses emotions, the mother is grateful (though a bit embarrassed) for her daughter’s affection. The daughter is ashamed to know that her mother is saddened by her inability to have children, and that she will forever be the daughter and never the mother. It is unsettling to see Swinton’s mother appear older in every shot, looking into the camera with a sense of dread for the future. What is happening in this haunted hotel? At times, it resembles the setting of Rattigan’s Separate Tables, but also seems to contain the final scenes from Kubrick’s 2001.

This intimate film is filled with warmth and affection. I particularly enjoyed the scene where the mother almost trips while walking to the restaurant table, and the daughter immediately reacts with concern, quickly turning it into a lighthearted moment. The Eternal Daughter is a touching and sincere revelation for Hogg.

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