Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut based on Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel, ‘The Lost Daughter’ is a story of two mothers, a younger one and an older one. I like the title of this film because it reflects an onion-like structure and leaves the question of who is the lost daughter open to interpretation. Olivia Colman plays the role of Leda, the protagonist along with Dakota Johnson in the role of Nina, the young mother.
On a vacation in Greece, Leda comes across a new family which captures her attention because of the mother and daughter, Nina and Elena respectively. In their relationship, Leda sees her own relationship with her 2 daughters, Bianca and Martha in their youth. In an attempt to balance academics and career along with her children, she fails to be a good mother, leaving her children in pursuit of her career. Leda finds Nina’s exhaustion and withdrawal to her daughter Elena, very relatable as she went through something like this herself.
Elena’s doll, Nani, goes missing, and as a result Leda begins to reminisce about her childhood doll Mini-Mama and eventually her own mother. She recollects her own youth when she sees Nina and Elena play. Through the character of Leda, the audiences witness a paranoid, uneasy, socially withdrawn person which is not easy to watch, let alone trust her narration. The movie leaves many unresolved spots open for the audiences to interpret but Leda’s narration makes it a point to prove herself right. The end of this film lies on the ritualistic peeling of orange “like a snake”, which is wholesome to watch.
Colman has so beautifully adapted to the character of Leda, reflecting upon her insecurities and paranoia that there seems to be no difference in the two of them. Hands down, she deserves to be the best actor of this movie as she took it to a whole another level with her skills. Nina is young and tired and Dakota Johnson has done a marvelous job in playing the role. She has a lag in her trajectory with small highs and lows. The role of a young Leda, played by Jessie Buckley does try to match Colman.
Motherhood is a phase with many sub-phases. While some feel like they are natural at it, many of them feel like they are not meant to be mothers ever. This uncertainty, paired with the quest of having a successful career and academics makes it even more difficult. The pain, confrontation, guilt, struggle, and much more is woven into this movie which makes it beautiful. Mothers and daughters share a bond like none other and to witness it in someone else’s relationship is bound to cause guilt. The years missed with them can never come back and that regret is reflected in Leda’s long stares and observations.
Gyllenhaal has adapted Ferrante’s book exceptionally and with this film, the book seems to have gotten a life of its own. This film was aimed at understanding motherhood from an angle other than the most common one and for me, it succeeded. This psychological thriller literally had me at the edge of my seat with zero predictability until the very end which I must appreciate.
The movie purposely follows an obscure path as life is not clear for all. The characters, Leda and Nina are realistic without any fake filters, depicting the reality of life and its happenings which is sometimes accompanied with guilt, stress and tension. For most of us, we appreciate movies where we can relate to the characters the most and disapprove of them when we find them weird and troublesome. But, I would like to pose a question here. Aren’t movies a way of expressing the unknown, taking us to paths not traversed by us ever?
The Lost Daughter is now streaming on Netflix.