dir: Joanna Hogg
I’m assuming that this flick was filmed during the covid years, because, hey, what’s easier to do when there are restrictions than filming one person doing two roles? But I think, considering the director, and considering the greatness that is Tilda Swinton, if you put the question as to whether it was put together during the pandemic, the director might say “What pandemic?”
I’m pretty sure this is exactly what she wanted to make regardless. I can’t pretend that I know that much about this director, since this is the first of her flicks that I’ve seen. You might get a sense of her once you’ve watched this, though.
I say that like it’s a bad thing, but I guess it isn’t. This has the look and the feel of a ghost story, but it’s neither a thriller, a mystery, or a horror flick. Maybe, if I was forced to pigeonhole it at gunpoint, I’d say it was a psychological drama. The thing is, though, a person watching this cold would have no idea what is happening or why until the end, and then the impression you’re left with might be an unfavourable one. It could be the emotional equivalent of the shoulder shrug emoji.
I don’t know Joanna Hogg, so I don’t know if this sounds like an unfair statement about her: I feel like this film is her making a film about how she feels about her relationship with her mother, and that she needs Tilda Swinton to tell her story, because otherwise, who would?
So Tilda plays Julie, a director struggling with writer’s block and unable to come up with her next movie, and Rosalind, her mother. Julie has organised for them to stay at a hotel which, by no coincidence, was previously a house that Rosalind lived in when she was younger.
When I say ‘hotel’, it’s not like the modern version – if you’re old enough to know, the hotel itself doesn’t look that different from the set for Fawlty Towers. With less hijinks, racism or spousal abuse, unfortunately.
We don’t know why Julie only thinks that by hanging out with her mother that she’ll somehow come up with a screenplay, but that’s her plan. Nothing seems to go right, though. Everything is slightly off. They’re the only ones in the hotel, but they still get crap service. Two people work there, one the girl at reception (Carly-Sophia Davies), and a groundskeeper Willy type called Bill (Joseph Mydell). The receptionist glares at Julie, and always pushes back on anything Julie asks for, and she leaves at night (probably 5pm) by climbing into the same car playing earbleed doof doof house music always.
But the absence of people still means something or someone is keeping Julie awake at night. The generally creepy surrounds, the noises coming from upstairs, the poor quality of the hospitality on offer, the wifi being too slow.
Julie and Rosalind also have their dog with them, being Louis (Swinton’s actual dog called Louis, a goofy, needy, whiny Springer Spaniel) which plays more of a part of the story than he should. It was also the reason why watching this took absolute months, because whenever I started watching it, my dog would start attacking the screen whenever you could see or hear sweet Louis.
Maybe I should have listened to my dog. All of the moments between Julie and Rosalind are mostly idle chit chat, “do you want me to get you another scarf and a hot water bottle” type stuff, or they’re talking about the dog, or all sorts of mundanities, and yet Julie is persistently unsettled.
The more time Julie and Rosalind spend together, or spend together at meals, the worse things seem to get, because Rosalind remembers more and more awful things that happened when she was here, and in which rooms, so there’s a solid fifteen minutes stretch where Julie keeps saying something like “I’m so sorry I brought you here, I’m so sorry” and crying, with the mother constantly reassuring her and telling her it’s no big deal.
This isn’t the kind of film with character arcs, or people resolving stuff, or coming to terms with the past or anything similar. This feels like it’s more a flick about the unresolvable elements of this director’s relationship with her mother, and the frustration she felt towards her mother looking after her towards the end of her life.
It’s not really a twist, I don’t feel. There is something that indicates that Julie is trapped in a neurotic cycle of trying to do a set of magical thinking rituals in order to appease the spirit of her mother, and never being able to make it work. People can get stressed about providing a ‘wonderful’ birthday experience for someone they love, if everything goes just right then…
But what if you’re the only one there? For whom are the rituals enacted? How can you resolve matters with someone who’s gone. Do you create a narrative for yourself where you forgive and are forgiven? How about resolving the feelings one has that one sacrificed the possibility of becoming a mother in order to look after one’s own mother? If a woman gets to her 60s, as both director and actor have, what consolation remains in being the so-called “eternal daughter” of the title knowing having kids of your own without adoption etc is an unlikely event?
Do you even want kids, bro? And why?
Does the director / screenwriter feel like an eternal daughter because she never became a mum herself, for whatever reasons? I don’t know, I haven’t spoken with her lately, but I have watched her flick.
I am left with many questions, but, I’m not really that curious about the answers. Artists, in all mediums, take their life experiences in many instances and transform them into art in order to tell us something about themselves and to sometimes tap it into some kind of greater meaning or universal truths or something. Something else, not necessarily something more.
This film seems to say not a lot more than “I feel something like guilt about my relationship with my mother. I have conflicted feelings about how we left things when she died. I feel frustrated by the fact that her death means we can never resolve these issues, like, did she like me, was she proud of me etc”
But it’s delivered as text. There’s no subtext. It’s just getting Tilda, as a sock puppet, to say these things to an audience, being us, because Julie or Joanna saying this to a mirror or to the night sky doesn’t seem to bring the hoped for catharsis.
This should resonate with me, considering my experiences with my parents over the last however many years, but I’ll be honest none of it touched me at all. At all. And I absolutely adore Tilda Swinton.
It’s a strange, off-putting film, but I have no doubt there are people, individuals out there that may enjoy it.
It’s just that I can’t imagine there being very many of them.
6 times there are no worthwhile mysteries in this flick – the dog did everything – out of 10
“I just want you to be happy. I’m trying all the time to make you happy. I can’t keep guessing. Can’t you just tell me? You’re sort of like a mystery person to me. And I’ve spent all my life trying to make you happy.” - The Eternal Daughter