Film Review – The Eternal

Trawling through Netflix or Amazon looking for something to watch can be time well spent. Occasionally your patience will be rewarded with an unknown title well worth the time invested, a Tale of Two Sisters or a Coherence, which teaches you that fame is not the chief measure of art. But other times you will discover something justly obscure, a film which lacks the courage to show its face in daylight. And these have their own interest.

 

Nora and Jim love each other very much. We know this from the montage of them drinking booze and laughing which begins the film. If it were not obvious enough we have it reinforced by the narrator, Alice. They were devoted to each other, Alice says, but they could never be close because Nora had a great secret. There is no danger of spoilers here because, amid all the chaos to be seen later on, this secret of Nora’s is never explained. Maybe if the writer had found the time for a second draft – but no.

Nora, New York to her fingertips, turns out to be Irish. Not the New York definition of Irish, whereby one’s grandfather was distantly related to the O’Murphy clan who once ran a chain of theme pubs in New Jersey, but the real thing. She mysteriously left the emerald isle as a child, and now just as mysteriously chooses to go back. Her grandmother is old, she says on more than one occasion, and on this device does the plot precariously hinge.

The hard-drinking couple are well suited to the new environment. As soon as they reach Irish soil they stop off in a pub and drink Guinness, in the face of doctor’s orders. Nora has had something of a problem with alcohol, in that it promotes flashbacks, headaches and blackouts. This fact is heavily signposted for its significance, although it is never explained. They get chatting to an Irish man in the pub, an old acquaintance of Nora’s, and against all stereotypes a fight ensues and they have to leave.

Having indulged in the booze Nora experiences one of these flashbacks and blackouts which, it is stressed again, are never explained. Fortunately she crashes the car within walking distance of the ancestral home, and on their arrival they meet the mysterious Alice, a local child adopted by her uncle Bill. Bill, inexplicably played by Christopher Walken, has become blind since Nora last saw him, a disability which also seems to have affected his accent, which veers in and out of credibility almost as if the actor never really bothered to grasp the Irish tones. He leads Nora down to the cellar to show her the preserved corpse of a witch who was entombed in a bog centuries ago and is for reasons unknown now his property. It is fortunate that Christopher Walken is blind at this point, as this means he can’t see what has become of his career. Nora makes her excuses and leaves. This is the last point at which the plot makes sense.

While Nora and Jim search the enormous house for their not entirely convenient child Jim Jr (American parents), the ancient witch, with the most Irish of all names, Niamh, opens her eyes and gradually comes back to life. Coincidentally she looks exactly like Nora, even to the point of being played by the same actress, although obviously this will never be a peg on which to hang the later plot development. When Bill tries to kiss her she slits his throat, to the great advantage of Christopher Walken’s artistic credibility.

By this point Nora’s mental confusion has been increasing, along with her husband’s desire for alcohol. While going to get another drink Jim, against all odds, bumps into the witch Niamh and mistakes her for his wife. On going outside for a snog he winds up knocked out by a punch from the same Irish alcoholic friend of Nora’s they left a pub to avoid earlier. This friend succeeds in seducing the real Nora, to the confusion of the newly awakened Jim. (Time by this point has become an unreliable marker for anything). Nora violently rejects her husband, an act which Alice, in a convenient piece of exposition later on, explains is because Niamh’s soul is somehow intertwined with Nora’s. When the two identical women meet violence ensues, and a mysterious gardener appears, to shoot the witch in the head.

A glance at the clock will show you there are still ten or so minutes left. Sure enough, Niamh is restored to life, and uses telekinesis or something to hurl shattered pieces of an old record at Nora’s Irish friend, of course killing him instantly as the flimsy bits of vinyl embed themselves in his chest. As an ancient and well-preserved witch Niamh obviously possesses endless powers of regeneration. Nevertheless, they temporarily thwart her with electricity, giving Alice enough time to explain that Niamh wants to steal Nora’s soul and Jim Jr enough time to fall down a hole and get captured.

While chasing after her abducted son Nora finally has a chance to speak to her eccentric grandmother, telling her that she is willing to sacrifice herself to save her son. Having by this point tracked down Niamh and Jr, Jim tries to calm things down and/or make things right by feeding the witch booze, which makes as much sense as anything at this point. On realising this is no more than a ploy Niamh escapes with the speccy brat and makes for the beach, where Nora is waiting for her, with her grandmother lying under a sheet. Watch this again and it still won’t be clear why this is. But for Nora it is clear what needs to be done. She slits her own throat with a Druidy knife and walks into the sea.

This act of ultimate sacrifice is what is needed to put an end to the disturbances. With no further competitor to her place on earth Niamh ends her campaign of aggression – which never actually made any sense – and is replaced by the soul of Nora. Everything is back to normal for reasons which presumably the second draft would have clarified, and all concerned are happy. Again, we never actually find out what Nora’s secret is, if this sort of thing bothers you.

 

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