“The Lost Daughter” and Its Message To Lost Mothers
Issue 10, Volume 112
By Nicole Liu
A woman dressed in all white with a blooming red spot on the side of her shirt stumbles across a sandy beach. After one look at the setting sun, she collapses on the shore, the water washing over her and absolving her of her mistakes. A rhythmic, bluesy sound plays, and the title card pops up: “The Lost Daughter.” This sequence is how Netflix’s newest psychological drama opens. “The Lost Daughter,” the highly anticipated directorial debut of American actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, has already won numerous accolades for its screenplay and acting.
Adapted from Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same name, “The Lost Daughter” follows Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman), a divorced college professor and translator who goes on holiday to the Greek islands. There, she becomes fixated on a young mother named Nina (Dakota Johnson) who is on vacation with her family. Though Nina seems happy with her life, the film reveals that she is overwhelmed by becoming a mother, which brings up painful memories of Caruso’s own motherhood, forcing her to confront and come to terms with her past.
The cinematography of the movie is wonderful. Every scene is presented perfectly, with close angle shots and lingering camera work that evoke a somber tone. At the beginning of the movie, when Caruso is observing Nina and her family from afar, they are filmed from a distance to immerse the audience in Caruso’s point of view. The audience sees what Caruso sees: a beautiful young woman who exudes an air of assurance and satisfaction. It is only when the camera shifts its focus closer and Caruso becomes more intimately acquainted with Nina that the cracks in Nina’s facade begin to show. The cinematography also weaves flashback scenes with the present day, drawing thoughtful parallels that press the audience for answers. Interestingly, in most scenes, the camera focuses on the women, with men pushed to the background. The expressions and inner turmoil of these women are the focus, making it clear that “The Lost Daughter” is a story about motherhood and the sacrifices women make for their families.
The close up shots and carefully chosen frames complement the superb acting. Academy Award winner Colman brings Caruso to life. Her wistful and unflinching expressions contribute an unsettling tone to the film, especially as she watches Nina and reminisces about her mysterious past. Colman’s tightly wound performance gives the impression that she is constantly on the brink of explosion, making for a very tense yet contained performance. Jessie Buckley, who plays young Caruso, also embodies her character well. With her harsh voice, frustrated expressions, and tired appearance, Buckley plays the role of a distraught and overwhelmed mother perfectly. In one particular scene, young Caruso is pulled from work to comfort her crying daughter, who has cut herself. As her daughter pleads for Caruso to kiss her wound to make the pain go away, Caruso withdraws from her, showing the full extent of her exhaustion to the audience. Buckley’s performance pushes viewers to sympathize with Caruso despite her contentious actions.
While marketed as a thriller, “The Lost Daughter” lacks the intensity that usually characterizes the genre. Instead, it opts for subtle suspense that gradually builds throughout the movie. Advancing at a leisurely pace, pieces of the plot fall into place, creating a complex web of revelations despite the simple premise. The movie requires thoughtful contemplation to decipher the characters and their actions, as shown by motifs like the doll that Caruso takes from Nina’s daughter and refuses to give back.
At its core, the movie examines the constraints of motherhood and the loss of liberty that comes with it. Young Caruso sacrifices her freedom and career as a notable translator to take care of her daughters with little help from her oblivious husband, a very real situation that occurs to many mothers. Wives are often expected to sacrifice their careers to raise their kids, while the same is rarely demanded of husbands. “The Lost Daughter” is unique in that it doesn’t attempt to justify Caruso’s actions, especially when she starts an affair. Instead, it reveals the ugly truth that some women just aren’t meant to be mothers and that their ineptitude at motherhood is only exacerbated by societal pressures. The film invites the audience to critically sympathize with Caruso’s story. When she observes Nina making the same mistakes that she has made in the past, she befriends Nina to help her. However, Caruso herself is still tangled in the errors of her past, resulting in an explosive climax that leaves her on the sandy beach the audience sees at the beginning of the film, blood blooming on her dress.
“The Lost Daughter” is a successful directorial debut for Gyllenhaal, who brings the messages of Ferrante’s novel to life. The film is a delightful, thought-provoking watch that brings universal truths to the screen. It doesn’t shy away from showing the audience what it means to be a mother struggling with her identity and the pressures of society. The genius of the film lies in its nuanced and unwavering message. Suffice it to say that Gyllenhaal has proven herself to be a versatile innovator. She has not restricted herself to the confinements of acting and has successfully delved into the world of directing.