When a film opens after the brutal assault of the ads ( Cineworld Chelsea) with a silent view of landscape I’m almost certain I’m in for something stylish and compelling.
Mist swathed dense forests pervade ‘The Daughter’ and the mist never lifts, though there are rare beautifully lucid shots in the depths of the wood. The mist is a ‘contagious fog’, a ‘cloud of unknowing’ beneath which the characters play out their fates without insight. This is a remorseless social and psychological exposé and is a re-imagining of Ibsen’s ‘Wild Duck’. Henry, (played with bitter and troubled complacency by Geoffrey Rush) is a wealthy land and factory owner, his past fissured with betrayals, who uses his charisma and power to invade and damage the lives of those around him. His attempts to make reparation through financial support, far from being a salve, turn his victims against him with increased rage. The implication is that relationships of power are inevitably poisonous both for the powerful and the powerless. His money-cushioned position gives his actions a wanton, heartless quality, symbolised by his wounding of a duck with a shotgun, which he then asks his servant to ‘deal with’: a habitual delegation of responsibility. (The duck lives, by the way.)
His son, Christian, (Gregor in Ibsen and played with brooding unpredictability by Paul Schneider), is tormented by the past. He seeks redemption by unearthing it, but is unable to negotiate the necessary engagement with his father. In a pit of despair, truth telling becomes a symbolic curative firebrand for him which he carries into the lives around him, externalising the destruction of his own interior life. It turns into a tragic act of misplaced vengeance.
The Australian director, Simon Stone, was also director of the theatre version of Ibsen’s play, performed at the Barbican in 2014 and both versions are more stark than the original. There’s a stripped down quality which is reminiscent of ancient Greek tragedy. One of the preoccupations of Greek dramatists was the problem of how humans could expiate serious transgressions against both other human beings and the gods. They showed how guilt and responsibility are passed from generation to generation through various acts of vengeance or attempts to appease the relevant diviinty. There are no gods in this film. Stone reworks that concept of how the past exerts power over the present in the light of current psychological theory, and shows how the shards of the adults’ lives come to focus on the most vulnerable, the daughter, like rays intensifying through glass. Interesting to note here, that the daughter, called ‘Hedvig’ is the only character for whom Stone has retained Ibsen’s name for her. She is played by Odessa Young with great subtlety.
This is an absorbing, beautifully constructed film, not entirely without hope, which you may find harrowing but possibly cathartic. It is showing at the Kino-teatr in August.
Hastings Independent No.