“Children are a crushing responsibility.” These words are uttered by Leda (Olivia Colman) during a conversation about motherhood while on a beach vacation in Greece. It perfectly encapsulates a main character that is filled with grief, scarring, and above all else, secrets from her past.
‘The Lost Daughter’, based on the novel by Elena Ferrante, is an examination of the struggles of motherhood as it relates to our antihero of a main character. The film opens on a beautiful beach in Greece, where Leda has chosen to vacation for the summer away from her work as a university professor in Boston. She is a middle-aged divorcee enjoying her time on the beach alone, until a brash family seemingly takes over the beach and proves to be an unsettling menace in Leda’s once-peaceful existence. When one of the children goes missing, Leda is suddenly overwhelmed with memories of raising her own daughters, sparked by flashbacks of anger and resentment. Leda becomes the hero of the town when she finds the lost child and returns her to her mother, Nina (Dakota Johnson). However, the child’s doll also goes missing and it is later revealed that Leda may be the culprit.
The missing doll proves to be a major plot point in a story that toggles back-and-forth between the present and the frustrating past. While younger Leda (played by Jessie Buckley) struggles to promote herself in a career dominated by male influences, she is simultaneously proving to be a mother who fails to love her own children. There is a stigma to how Leda feels about her own duties as a parent, and as she puts it later in the film, she is “an unnatural mother.”
Lena’s honesty about her own selfish behavior weaves in and out with the life she is currently living on the beach. One woman’s paradise may be another’s complete implosion. She meets another lonely soul in Lyle (Ed Harris) and they spend time together discussing how eventful their lives have been up to this point. During her stay, she finds disgusting bugs in her room, pine cones from the trees attack her, and even the stolen doll somehow spits up on her…it’s almost as if her vacation is screaming at her to go home. But she is hanging on for dear life because Leda is a stubborn and awkward person, harboring secrets that complicate her very existence.
A triumphant directorial debut by Maggie Gyllenhaal, ‘The Lost Daughter’ shouts volumes of emotions while crisscrossing between the choices Leda made in her past and similar situations on her vacation in the present. She sees herself in Nina and confronts her own demons as she fights to keep the illusion of innocence in the face of extreme emotional distress from the entire town. Colman and Buckley’s performances are remarkable, even with a shared character that is designed to be despised.
As much as I enjoyed ‘The Lost Daughter’, I kept thinking about how this story is not as original as the storytellers would like us to believe. It forced me to recall other films like ‘The Hours’, coincidentally also co-starring Ed Harris, as motherhood is shown in these films to be a frustrating chapter of the human condition. While I cannot relate, I did find myself empathetic to these plights throughout the film. The choices Leda makes are unbelievably disappointing to say the least, but it’s in these choices that her truthfulness comes alive. She is a broken person who is simply looking for the pieces to her own puzzle.
The doll might just be that missing piece.
Ticket rating: 🎟️ 🎟️ 🎟️ 🎟️