Joanna Hogg’s “The Eternal Daughter” is a horror-drama film that looks and feels very personal to the filmmaker, like most of her previous works too. The plot here follows a woman, Julie, as she takes her mother, Rosalind, and her dog, Louis, to an old estate-turned-hotel to celebrate the mother’s birthday. While there is not too much in the film to decipher, whatever there is can be brain-wracking and thought-provoking. With not too much certainty or even hints provided by the film about whatever is going on, “The Eternal Daughter” is perhaps best enjoyed with a very personal reception, choosing to believe or make of the film what one would want to.
‘The Eternal Daughter’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
As a taxi drives through a foggy British countryside road, Julie is seen interestedly listening to the driver recount a ghostly tale of seeing an apparition, as her mother Rosalind and her ever-faithful pet Louis sit quietly enjoying the view. Arriving at their destination, which is an old but grand country estate, Julie checks in at the reception, as the estate now runs as a hotel. There seems to be some issue with the reservation itself, as the receptionist struggles to find Julie’s booking at first and then to find any special request that the woman had apparently made about taking a room on the first floor. The receptionist herself seems extremely unwelcoming and even rude, as she initially denies giving a room on the first floor, even though all the room keys of the hotel are on full display, meaning that all the rooms are empty. Finally allowing the guests to move into the room of their choice, the receptionist then hurriedly leaves the place, not even letting Julie finish her sentence. Later that night, and also every following night, Julie notices the receptionist being driven away in a car with loud music blaring and rash driving too, possibly by her boyfriend at the end of her shift. As Julie struggles to settle in at the hotel with all the unnaturally loud sounds of the wind and the creaking of boards all over the place, she tries her best to work on her laptop. A filmmaker by profession, Julie is trying to write a film about her mother and their relationship but is struggling even harder at this. She finds a nice, warm corner in one of the higher-floor rooms in the house and tries to write what she intends to, but the noises keep coming back. The eerily empty hotel, with all these disturbingly loud noises, and the fact that her mother does not seem to hear any of it at all make Julie’s situation seem like a rather concerning one.
What Is the Meaning Of The Film?
As far as significant events are concerned, there are not many taking places in the plot of “The Eternal Daughter.” Instead, the film is more focused on Julie’s everyday struggles to write and to sit or lie through the loud noises that always make it feel like something sinister is going on. The large estate house itself has an air of mystery and the unknown about it, and Julie’s traversal through the place, sometimes at night, makes for a good watch. It is her mother’s dog, Louis, that often seems spooked by something in the room and in the hotel, and on one occasion, it makes Julie take it outside for a walk in the middle of the night. While Julie feels that the dog wants to relieve itself, Louis does not do anything once it is outside. On another occasion, someone seems to push their room’s door open when Rosalind is fast asleep, and Julie is in the washroom, making Louis run out of the room and out of the hotel. Panicked at his disappearance, Julie desperately tries looking for him and even gets help from the groundskeeper, Bill. When she returns to her room, Louis is sitting there on the bed as if nothing has happened. Stranger things also start to happen with Julie, as she starts to see the ghostly face of a woman (maybe Rosalind’s dead aunt, who once lived in the house) in one of the windows of the estate house whenever she is outside in the misty garden. The presence of Bill is also a bit suspicious, as the receptionist does not ever make any mention of him. Added to that is how he literally emerges out of the darkness one night when Julie is spooked by the noises and the sheer emptiness of the hotel, to then exchange warm words with her. When Bill later helps Julie look for Louis and then receives news of his safe return, he asks her to have a celebratory drink with him. During this whole time, Julie also keeps looking out for her mother’s well-being and happiness, as the days move forward toward Rosalind’s birthday. It is finally on this birthday that the biggest reveal of the film is made, the one that it had been building up to—there’s no presence of Rosalind in reality, and it has been only Julie talking to herself and imagining her mother all this time.
This explains a series of small incidents that we had earlier seen, beginning with the strange behavior of the receptionist. Her rudeness was out of fear or confusion about the fact that the only guest in the hotel was talking to herself while pretending to be accompanying her non-existent mother. It is also through the receptionist that we learn of the final revelation, as she brings in a cake, hands it over to Julie, and then stands in bewilderment. A shot of both the mother’s and the daughter’s positions is then shown to us, but it is only Julie on screen. This is perhaps the first time in the entire film that the two women are intended to be shown in the same frame, and the fact that Tilda Swinton plays both Julie and Rosalind can all be seen as hints of this gradually developing revelation. Earlier that evening, one of Julie’s cousins also drove up to the hotel with some flowers for Rosalind, but the mother denied meeting him and told Julie to get him away. While this did seem odd at the time, the fact that there is no Rosalind explains this motivation and yet raises more questions too. Is the cousin or the rest of the family even aware of Rosalind’s passing? If so, then is it that this particular cousin knows of Julie’s belief that her mother is still with her, and he actually just visits to see her on the day of Rosalind’s birthday? “The Eternal Daughter” does not provide any answers in this regard, and it also keeps a very thin line between what is reality and what is imagination. It is easy to wonder if this cousin really even exists, much like groundskeeper Bill. If Bill is real, then how does he see and talk with Rosalind, for she does not exist? And yet, Bill is also seen in crowded spaces, especially at the end of the film, as he stands by the main door, warmly waiting for Julie. However, it is also true that Bill is never seen talking with anyone else.
Both the character of Bill and the labyrinthine corridors and floor plans of the estate house would be quick to remind one of “The Shining,” and Bill might just be someone who can genuinely see or feel people who have passed (in a sense similar to Halloran’s powers of shining). His very story for continuing to work at the hotel, as he tells Julie on one occasion, makes it possible to perceive him like this. Bill and his beloved wife had spent thirty years working at the hotel together before she tragically passed away from illness. Bill did not want to leave the place after this, as every room and corner of the house reminded him of the many memories of his wife, and he even played flute in her memory regularly. Perhaps Bill can still maintain the difference between having one’s memory and literally seeing them, but Julie is beyond that capability. Julie’s reasonings also have a very unusual temper, even when we are not aware that her mother is imaginary, for she cannot ever stand the fact that her mother is unhappy. On two separate occasions, Rosalind remembers the times she had spent at this very estate house many years ago, as it happened to be the house of her aunt before being turned into a hotel; this is also precisely the reason Julie had selected this estate for their getaway. When Rosalind was a child, she had been sent to this estate during the World War and had received news of her brother’s (or some other close relative’s) passing away as they were serving in the war, and the young girl was extremely saddened by this news. Much later in life, Rosalind had been expecting a baby with her husband when she visited her aunt at this estate, and it was during her stay here that she lost the baby in her womb, which too had caused immense pain to her. When the mother tells Julie of these incidents both times, the daughter uncontrollably weeps and breaks down, apologizing for having brought her here and making her go through such sad memories. Julie also has this habit of secretly turning on a sound recorder every time her mother talks about her memories or her life, which is peculiar given the fact that nobody is actually talking. It could be that the film that Julie wants to make about her mother and their personal relationship is something that would be a collection of happy memories and recollections for the filmmaker. She particularly wants to avoid all the sadness, misunderstandings, and grievances, and maybe that is why she keeps harping on just good memories. The film does subtly suggest that when Rosalind was actually alive, her relationship with Julie was not the best one possible, and even though we really do not see Rosalind in that manner, one gets the sense that she was a really demanding mother. Towards the end, Julie cannot help but express, even to her imaginary dead mother, that she has been doing so much selflessly for the mother, sacrificing her own time and loved ones to do so. Julie has a husband, who she only calls up every night to inform him of their well-being, and she has no children of her own because her entire affection and attention had been towards her mother. It is very much possible that the reason why Julie breaks down feeling guilty for making her mother remember sad times is that she had been made to feel that way numerous times when Rosalind was alive.
‘The Eternal Daughter’ Ending Explained: Is Julie Able To Write The Film She Wants To?
After the exceptionally unusual birthday dinner, Julie is seen returning to her room and breaking down again when Bill comes to console her. She had earlier invited the groundskeeper to her mother’s birthday dinner, but Bill had said he had some familial duties to attend to, and yet here he was now. This can, again, be considered a nod to the suggestion that Bill is imaginary like Rosalind. The next morning, Julie has a hearty breakfast and starts to type words on her laptop with great ease. It is almost like her sharing with us the fact that she suffers from the memories of her dead mother makes Julie’s writer’s block miraculously go away. When she is seen leaving the hotel around the time of Christmas, Julie is a much happier woman with a smile on her face always, probably because she has been able to write the film with satisfaction. As a taxi waits for her, Bill walks Julie and Louis out of the hotel, and she thanks Bill for all his help. Julie then boards the taxi, and the car drives off into the distance.
At its most basic, “The Eternal Daughter” is neither something never seen before nor something spectacular either. But it is in its execution that the film manages to hold one’s attention throughout and then leave with numerous questions and possibilities in mind. It also keeps an air of mystery about it even after its end, as we are never told or given any suggestions as to why Julie saw the ghostly face of a woman or how Louis had disappeared from the room only to get there again. Both can be considered hallucinations of Julie’s mind or else as recollections from some other time. It might be a stretch, but a possibility can also be thought of in which Julie actually visited the hotel with her mother when she was alive some years ago, and some of the experiences she had then are mixed in with those she has at present. Louis might have run out of the room on that occasion, but he is still in the room at present, but Julie goes chasing events from her past, much like she does with her efforts to please her mother. The sound and visuals both give a sense of old gothic classic horrors, which is a treat for those enjoying such things. When the layered sound design is peeled off, there is perhaps not as much horror in the film as drama, but it is genuinely the sound that would draw you in, at least initially. “The Eternal Daughter” seems to be a simple tale of a daughter struggling to live up to the expectations of her mother even after the latter’s death, presented in the wrapping of a horror story in which a woman hallucinates and sees dead people.
“The Eternal Daughter” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by Joanna Hogg.