The Lost Daughter: A story of lost childhoods and their brutal manifestations

It has been a while that I watched a movie that is in some way connected to my own reality. I have been consciously choosing to watch light-hearted content, but the combination of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Olivia Colman bringing Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter to the screen intrigued me. I haven’t read the book, but a couple of my trusted friends praise the author a lot for her compelling story telling, who also has the hit HBO series, My Brilliant Friend, to her credit.

All this led me to watch The Lost Daughter and I found it to be a good, educative choice.

The motherhood stereotype broken

This 2-hour long drama can seem messy and twisted, but there is so much more to it. It could make you uncomfortable, especially if you are from a culture that views mothers as the symbol of sacrifice and tolerance, bound to be and live a life of glorified suffering. The Lost Daughter breaks that and points that mothers are humans whose suppressed emotions due to deprived love and care can manifest in unexpected ways and can surface at any point.
I notice this often around me, among so many who have been forced to make motherhood their only role and identity: they feel spiteful and have buried resentment, as they are forced to sacrifice their dreams, thoughts, and lives to fit in the role dictated by (Indian?)patriarchy.

There are forced to internalise this great deficiency and their resentment shows up in small, day-to-day events, which are often pitiful and child-like. What can we expect? They are humans after all. There is nothing wrong with it as such, but we can surely do without it. Everyone deserves to have moments of peace, contentment and happiness. I am not sure if we will ever become a collective that breaks these unreasonable shackles and beliefs, but The Lost Daughter gives us a peek into the things I mentioned above.

The Lost Daughter

Spoilers included:
The lead character, Leda is a professor who takes a holiday in Italy. As she is lazing on the beach on one of the days, a family arrives and disrupts her peace and quiet. It seems like, though she doesn’t really have a problem with their arrival, she dislikes the fact everyone in the place has to oblige to their calls and needs. I sensed that she feels robbed of her peace and quiet and doesn’t appreciate the unfairness of her situation. Valid!


Among the family members, a mother-daughter duo, called Elena and Nina respectively, capture her attention. At this point we also get to see glimpses of Leda’s life as a young mother, which was consumed by taking care of two girls with hardly any support from her husband. It eventually becomes clear that she herself has not experienced much love growing up.
She is frustrated and torn between wanting a life that allows her to breathe and wanting to love and care for her children. It is just too much, all at once for young Leda. She takes the unusual choice and leaves the children under the care of her husband and her mother, a decision that makes her feel miserable and ‘fucking amazing’ at the same time!

I saw it as the coexistence of conflicting emotions: guilt born out societal pressure and freedom, the primal human urge. But that is my interpretation that stems from my Indian patriarchal upbringing that expects mothers to be sacrificial and suffer for the sake of everyone else.
Leda never had what she wanted and she converts that lack into something, anything that she wants to feel better in that moment. Does she fully understand her own actions? Not really.

The stolen doll: a powerful reflection of a robbed childhood

For instance, when the little girl gets lost and the everyone at the beach is busy looking for her, Leda goes on her own search. She finds the child and brings her to Nina, played by Dakota Johnson. Moments later the child is agitated about her missing doll, making all the adults anxious. Leda is calm and composed, which is normal for a stranger but to the audience’s surprise, she is the one who steals the doll. Here too, she is compensating for a childhood loss of a doll she loved that is destroyed in an encounter with her elder daughter, a child at the time. It seems sinister for adult Leda to do something like that when baby Elena is distraught, but the act seems justified when you look at the full picture — of her loveless childhood and all that came after.

She tries to return the doll one time when she finds Nina making out with a young boy. This takes her back to the time when she looked for pleasure and comfort outside her marriage. Something triggers her and she decides to keep the doll for longer. Olivia Colman does a brilliant job in showcasing conflicted emotions of rage, jealousy and pain all at once, the same things she felt as her young self.

When she finally returns the doll and finds no reason for committing the theft, you feel pity for the hurt and pained helpless child-Leda who emerges in the moment.

Is Leda the only lost daughter?
I think it is Leda, Elena, Nina and all those who have watched and will watch the movie.
The Lost Daughter is the story of all our lost childhoods and their brutal manifestations. The movie could also be seen as a reminder for adults to pause listen to the child inside us, treat them now and then and together find moments of peace and contentment in this harsh world, as lost childhoods cannot really be found or repaired!




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