Of Leda and “The Lost Daughter”

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R E V I E W – M O V I E

Fiana Islam

With the touch of postmodern melancholia, The Lost Daughter offers an offbeat narrative of an unusual concept of womanhood. It is based on the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante which was published in 2006. Maggie Gyllenhaal, despite being a debut director, represented the first-class portrayal of psychological drama like any other pro-Hollywoody one. Her overall illustration ponders the essence of love, lust, motherhood, and at the same time, a feminine urge to escape from all these.

The film starts on the seashore where we get to see a woman suddenly collapse on the ground. The unstable flow of the small waves keeps touching her body as she lays down on the sand. In the next scene, we get to know this very woman is the protagonist of this film, Leda (Olivia Colman), a forty-eight-year-old University professor. Leda rents a beach house on a Greek island for a few weeks to spend her vacation and get some literary works done in the meantime. While one day she starts to enjoy her spare time all alone on the beach, a large noisy family arrives there which immediately disrupts her comfort. Soon Leda becomes the centre of conflict in the film between herself and the other party. 

But Leda was more interested in focusing on a mother-daughter duo in that noisy family. The mother, Nina, is played by Dakota Johnson, mostly popular for playing the role of  Anastasia from the Fifty Shades Of Grey franchise. There’s something too mysterious in Leda’s attraction to this duo. Eventually, an obscure feeling develops as Leda is attracted to Nina, the miserable mother of a clingy little child. Although Leda appears to be exceptionally irritated with the entire family, she carefully watches Nina with her daughter, struggling and feeling lost now and then. This works as a driving force for Leda, and this saddened her. She feels connected to Nina and becomes nostalgic about her own battle as a young mother with her once two young daughters.

In The Lost Daughter, the direction of Maggie Gyllenhaal delivers a unique parallel between the major characters. Nina’s life opens the door to Leda’s past life whenever she faces any dilemma. In the meantime, some minor flashbacks introduce the young Leda (played by Jessie Buckley) who had a very short tolerance once with her daughters. She was a struggling researcher in Literature who had zero to less time to concentrate on every need of her girls.

For Leda, freedom was not something she wanted, it had become a “need”. She escaped for a time from all the hardships of her family by leaving for a conference. There she encountered a sudden turning point of recognition by a regarded researcher and that was a breakthrough in her life. That muscular, sexy researcher, Professor Hardy (played by Peter Sarsgaard) describes Leda’s work as “thrilling” – something enough to convince her to leave everything behind. Whether it is, the present life or Leda’s past, she seems to be attracted to men of different ages in the film. The older caretaker Lyle and the younger one Will – both liked Leda as much as she liked them. At times she might seem to be approachable but that ultimately does not happen.

In the movie, Leda’s early life conveys every one of the characteristics of an individual for whom parenthood was maybe not possible. She was tired of responsibilities, moreover, she was sick of being a mother. As a woman too, she felt incomplete while living with her husband and kids. Her default nature might seem questionable to some viewers at certain points. What’s up with this lady? Why does she act like this? These questions might pop up while watching the film, but definitely, it does not give all the answers.

Leda renders every emotion into something extravagant and not necessarily in a “proper” way. At times she could be careless and relentless. For her, womanhood is a strong impulsive nature, and the way it “releases” the inner forces, it often cannot be held back even if someone wants it to. She calls herself an “unnatural mother”; she confesses that leaving her daughters and husband behind “felt amazing” for a while. But ultimately, all these did not make her happy as she thought they would be. One time she breaks down in tears and yells at teenagers for making noises, another time she gathers her up and dances everything off in the local town bar. She is even seen to be obsessed over a dirty doll that belongs to Nina’s kid, and when Nina asked why she stole it, Leda replies, “I was just playing.” Needless to say, these contradictions of nature sometimes break the usual shackle of womanhood.

The Lost Daughter is unforeseeable — if that’s the picture Maggie Gyllenhaal was trying to draw by exploring mother nature or womanhood through the characters. The cinematography by Hélène Louvart is utterly praisable, soft, and at times tense, including the levelling up with all the tender colours in the background and perfect lighting. Moreover, the symbolism involves Yeat’s reference to the poem “Leda and the Swan”, which parallels Leda’s life, the unbreakable cycle of womanhood through the orange peel, the love between the mother and her children via the lost doll, and last but not least, the ocean waves symbolising each stage of Leda’s complex life throughout the film.

As Gyllenhaal intended, most likely the film has a significant impact on upgrading the comprehension of human nature and the uncertainties of parenthood. The film also hints about an imbalance between everything we try to live on. So undoubtedly, it is a success.


Fiana is a human-ish writer by day and a Scorpio coven witch by nightfall. Reach out to her @_ffikipedia_ to share any thoughts.

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