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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

The Lost Daughter

The Lost Daughter

Pure & Masterful On A Very High Scale Of Genius

See It Or Skip It: See It

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut The Lost Daughter is a deeply affecting film. It’s audacious, disturbing, intimate and insightfully realized. The way Gyllenhaal looks at womanhood, especially motherhood, is not socially desirable for our society but it rings loudly with honesty. Pure and masterful on a very high scale of genius.

While on holiday in Greece, college professor Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman) meets Nina (Dakota Johnson), a young mother. Nina’s three-year-old daughter Elena goes missing on the beach. Leda finds Elena and returns her to Nina who expresses her increasing exhaustion and unhappiness. Leda was a very young mother herself and she starts to unravel as she reflects on the hardships of her youth and some of the choices she made as a mother.

I’ve seen Olivia Colman give performances that terrify me. Roles and stories that chill me to the bone. She’s also given performances that make me collapse onto the floor and hold my hands in my face as I laugh like a hyena for minutes on end. Colman is a master chameleon. She can do anything and she can switch genres in a matter of seconds. Terrifying is not the vibe Gyllenhaal was looking for but rather one of severe nervousness. The Lost Daughter is Colman’s most unsettling performance. The Lost Daughter isn’t meant to portray a mother’s guilt but rather her discomfort. The discomfort that comes from the responsibility and being held back and not having the answers that everyone else assumes you're supposed to have. We watch in flashbacks as young Leda (Jessie Buckley in the best performance of her career so far) suffers in silence. She verbalizes her exhaustion but what she’s truly feeling is all out in the open. She doesn’t need to say it. She tells the story with her looks of shock, anger, and fear.

Colman and Buckley both portray the same Leda, just at different places. Colman is able to put into words what things were like for her and her daughters while Buckley struggles to make sense of it. Answers for the sake of getting an answer to anything make people feel better and I’ve never understood that. If you know how something that’s happened or is happening to you makes you feel, what more is there? The Lost Daughter values questions like this and proves it by never giving any answers.

There are none, especially when it comes to being a parent. Fatherhood has its own struggles too of course but motherhood has a very tight lock on it from a societal perspective. It’s a lock that goes untouched and if it’s dared brought up, there’s something wrong with you. The Lost Daughter rebels in this kind of thinking and dives into the beauty of stress and imperfection.

Stressed-out mothers who love their children but feel overwhelmed will see The Lost Daughter as their saving grace. As Gyllenhaal so passionately pointed out, when we’re young (Like really young, young as toddlers) our whole survival depends on our parents, particularly our mothers because we all came from them and some of us were being fed from their bodies (My mother never did that, THANK GOD) but they do and children at that wilful age have this fantasy that our mother’s sole purpose is to take care of them. As we grow, we learn our mothers are people with needs of their own. Some children learn this maturely, others are bratty and demand more. Leda’s two daughters are in their mid-20s and Leda has this freedom she’s not enjoying because Nina’s problems are just starting and Leda feels that so strongly.

Nina married her husband when she was still a teenager. In her early 20s, she’s in Greece with Elena and her husband’s loud stereotypical obnoxious Italian family from Queens. Nina’s pregnant sister-in-law Callie (Sucsession’s Dagmara Dominczyk) is the matriarch and she is pushy, vain, and irritating. Nina insists that she’s “happy” but Leda knows she is not. Johnson capture’s the stress of a young mother whose child is so clingy and doesn’t understand how powerful the sound of SILENCE is. Most children don’t at that age but many viewers from past generations will look at The Lost Daughter and feel this is unfamiliar territory.

It may be unfamiliar because, in generations past, some moms had a nanny to raise their kids and if they couldn’t afford them, many just left their children crying or if they’re a little older, sent them off to school and ordered them not to return until DINNER. The Lost Daughter really takes a long hard look at MODERN parenting. The standards of what’s ok and what’s not change through generations and women have always ended up on the more stressful side of that rule book. Apparently, as long as fathers show up on weekends only for the fun parts, he can be gone for the whole rest of the week and the mother must always be present. If she’s not, there’s something wrong with her. Our world is bombarded with double standards based on gender and The Lost Daughter looks to expose that.

By the time children are fully grown, mothers do possess some tiny seed of trauma from having to raise them. The rule that you must never fail is the most traumatizing. These days, many mothers raise their kids after they’re grown because lots of kids get into trouble as teens and that’s not a lifestyle you can just shake off at 21.

“It’s like I was trying not to explode and then I exploded” Leda tearfully tells Nina when they meet on the street. Nina sees Leda as the only one who understands her but what she doesn’t know is what Leda did: When Leda finds Elena, Elena has lost her doll and for days afterward, she continuously screams and cries and Nina knows she won’t stop until the doll is found. Leda in the heat of the moment decided that it would be a good idea to keep the doll for herself.

At least, that’s what it will look like to viewers. Leda has nothing to gain by keeping the doll and she stares at it in her villa with those Olivia Colman eyes I know so well. The doll’s presence is taunting her. Leda tries to clean the dirty doll and I swear to god, it’s literally one of those dolls you get at the dollar store on Cape Cod with those faces you can squeeze. Leda squeezes sand and water out of the doll's body and drops it upon seeing a worm crawl out of her mouth. She stares at the worm as it leaves the doll’s mouth and curls into a ball on her plastic eyes. There’s no music in this scene and it’s actually really sad but just the image of Leda watching this is hilarious for those with dark humor.

The doll looks like one Leda had from her childhood that she remembers giving to one of her girls. Leda’s daughter takes it but later on, Leda finds her playing with a barbie and sitting on the other doll that has no clothes on and has been scribbled with markers.

Jessie Buckley portrays young Leda in this scene as someone mothers will understand because the child is just playing but to the mother, it means a great deal more.

Young Leda: You know, you can be very thoughtless. I gave you this doll because I believed you would take care of her. You can't just treat her like shit.

Leda’s daughter: ……………………………………………………..She’s mine.

Leda picks up the scribbled naked doll and throws it out the window and watches her decapitate when she lands in the middle of the street.

Moments like this are really what most of the flashbacks are like but they’re so crucial and they say so much. The Lost Daughter is not for viewers who aren’t intellectual thinkers as snobbish as that sounds. People who don’t do “slow” films just won’t get it. If you appreciate great acting and a relatable story, you may find yourselves consuming a film you’ll be talking about for days afterward.

Colman, Johnson, and Buckley are all outstanding in their performances and Ed Harris has a few scenes as Lyle, the kind caretaker of the villa’s which are quite strange yet lovely. The Lost Daughter isn’t for everyone but then again, so is motherhood. Think of choosing to watch as choosing to get pregnant. If you're just contemplating, The Lost Daughter is also effective. Just watch it alone. This is not a film to enjoy with the company of others because it may very well feel like your life. Personal, private, and full of moments you wouldn’t want anyone else to see you be involved in.

Some of the dialogue is also spoken very quietly so some viewers may benefit from putting subtitles on. If it sounds like I’m trying to steer you away from The Lost Daughter, I promise that’s not the case. I’m just trying to make sure those who see it have a pleasurable viewing experience. It really isn’t for everyone and that’s truly fine. I LOVED it. I just don't want to waste someone’s time with something they’d appreciate in a different life.


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