The Lost Daughter Ending Explained: What Happened Between Leda and Her Daughters?

the lost daughter

The Lost Daughter Plot Synopsis

The Lost Daughter is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut, as well as another notch in the belt of Olivia Colman’s superb acting cred. A psychological drama and exploration of “unnatural” motherhood, the book-to-movie adaptation follows Professor Leda Caruso (Colman) as she vacations in Greece.

At the beach, a young woman named Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter draw Leda’s attention. They strike up something of a friendship, but Nina’s overbearing family evokes a threatening air.

As Leda observes the family, both present mysteries and past experiences haunt her. Recurring memories of early motherhood unravel the professor, leading us to question what happened between Leda and her daughters that now fills her with regret.

What was the deal with Nina’s family?

While The Lost Daughter is mainly an exploration of Leda’s psychology, Nina’s extended family still plays a significant role in the story. Their motivations are vague, however.

Nina’s sister-in-law, Callie Calista, emanates a motherly quality that comes off as inauthentic. When Leda helps the family by finding Nina’s daughter, Callie is overly kind to her. Yet, both Callie and Nina’s husband Toni take on hostile personas when they see Leda take interest in Nina.

It becomes abundantly clear that the Calistas aren’t your average vacationing family when Will warns Leda that they are “bad people.” That’s about all the explanation we receive, and I suppose it’s all we need. Callie’s and Toni’s controlling nature over Nina, while not elaborated on, at the very least serves to propel Nina’s and Leda’s relationship a step further.

Is Bianca the lost daughter?

Much of the film leads you along to believe that Bianca is “the lost daughter” referenced in the title. Leda’s memories of early motherhood reinforce this. She has a strained relationship with her older daughter, even when she was very young. In one scene, an adult Martha calls Leda, reassuring us that they still have a relationship.

We never see Bianca and Leda interact, however. In one scene, Leda’s finger hovers over Bianca’s contact information, as if to call her. But we get the sense that fear holds her back. And Leda’s climactic confession that she left her daughters for three years implies that the two of them are still estranged.

It’s possible that Leda and Bianca are still close. Then, perhaps Leda is the lost daughter. Her taking Elena’s doll (significantly called “mini mama”) could very well be a direct parallel to Leda’s taking herself away from her daughters.

But whether the lost daughter is Bianca or Leda all depends on how you read the last scene of the film.

How does The Lost Daughter End? Does Leda die?

Keeping in mind that this is a rich, complicated film where the ending is up for interpretationthere are a few possibilities as to how The Lost Daughter ends.

After Leda confesses to Nina that she took her daughter’s doll, Nina lashes out. She stabs Leda with a hat pin and storms out.

Leda then packs her things to leave. At night, she drives away. She crashes the car, then stumbles toward the ocean and collapses. It’s when she sits up and calls her daughter Bianca that things get confusing.

Bianca and Martha answer her on the phone. As Leda chats with them, an orange mysteriously appears in her hand. As she assures her worried daughters that she is okay, she begins to peel the orange in one long piece, just like she used to do with Bianca and Martha.

A straightforward reading of the scene shows that Bianca and Leda are not estranged. That the daughter was concerned for her mother’s safety. That every rocky moment between the mother and child was in the past, in Leda’s head.

Alternatively, Leda could have died in the car crash, having never reconciled with her older daughter. That would explain the appearance of the orange and the sudden, easy communication with Bianca.

Personally, I do believe she died in the end–finally free from the world’s strict expectations and free to enjoy the more beautiful, savoury aspects of motherhood: the kind of motherhood she was never able to grasp in life.

Read More: The Lost Daughter Movie Review

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28 thoughts on “The Lost Daughter Ending Explained: What Happened Between Leda and Her Daughters?”

  1. I spent the whole movie convinced that Bianca had been lost, possibly dead. Not really sure what the ending was about but the acting was terrific.

  2. I would like to tell u the sequel of what happened after you left me at the women’s shelter. I came back that cold day and yous was gone. Did you make it to Washington ? I think thats where u was hitch hiking next. So much has happened in my life so since. It’s amazing what I survived.. the hills only look pretty. And the outcome was pure unbelievable bullshit. I gotta catch u up. Lmk

  3. My name is leta morrison.i left my ex and my children behind due to abuse mentally and physically. My father told me ,”Leta even if you have to leave the kids they will be fine and go. Go as far away fr your abuser as possible.* One night as I got choked to near death with one of my twin baby girls in my arms, I couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror , I had to go . I did , I gave all four of my children a kiss on the head and walked away. I walked across the United States from my back yard im south Dakota to Dallas Texas. It took me 8days to get there. My toe nails fell off because of all the walking. My family now to this day still have my children. It is the worst best decision I felt I could of made . I had 20$ in my pocket when I left my home. I had nothing and knew no one. I survived Texas alive , thanks to a 6 month pregnant prostitute who took me in and showed me the ropes of flagging signs and surviving the streets. One day I remember an old friends mom’s phone number . I called it and just my luck it’s been the same number for 15 yrs. She contacted my family and my dad got me a bus ticket home. I arrived home Christmas Eve .. my house was wrecked. My life never been the same since. I’m forever lost . I met Elizabethan the women’s shelter I was taken to in the hills. Tramatized and sad I came home for my children . I met my roommate and surprisingly she is an author and wrote eat pray love. Lol we got snowed in in the hills for weeks. We became close. She said she would put me in her next movie. Is this the movie? Please lmk I miss ur face .

  4. I was confused as to why Nina’s family were so hostile to Leda and quite intimidating near the end of the movie. Particularly the scene where she’s dancing with Lyle to Bon Jovi, why was it so personal and specifically to her.

  5. This was a crazy good film, and this is why:
    I watched it on the plane after taking a lot of cbd oil that had a bit percentage of THC: really low, to be honest. Yet I sort of started tripping, even felt anxious at times. I got very involved with the film and, for starters, I can tell you the story and acting are superb (kept me going back and forth rewatching the scenes).
    I fell in love with Dakota Johnson. She became my dream girl, physically speaking. I can tell you this is one of her finnest acting.

    What got me anxious was the theme of selfishness. It made me see that I am perhaps a bit selfish and this is why I haven’t married and have kids. I, of course, intend to fix that and become more generous and less self-centered. A film that helps you realize that must be a good one, right? Finally, I got anxious because it appears to me that Leda had a personality disorder that explains her selfishness and desire to control everything. I had a few exes who were like this, but only one who was a pathological liar, super manipulative possibly suffered from anti-social personality disorder. This disorder is dangerous since you feel no real empathy towards others, while everything is only about you. Leda seems to be this case, and also Nina. Nina, as we learn from her reaction in the end probably didn’t have a happy life just as her and Leda believe at times.
    So I learned that if you let selfishness reign in your life in the end you cause great suffering to yourself and others, thus, reaping what you saw.

  6. An interesting character study. But Leda was clearly mentally ill or suffering from a serious personality disorder. She was intentionally cruel to Elena and couldn’t help herself.

    When you’re a parent you have responsibilities. She didn’t want them. And when her past was re-awakened i=n her she was a horrible human being to a helpless child. She didn’t have the self-control a sane adult should have.

    And “the lost daughter” refers to the daughters who were temporarily lost at the beahc, nothing more. Leda was a “lost mother.” And a faithless wife.

    I felt sorry for Elena, not Leda.

  7. This was such a boring movie, still don’t know what it was about and what was the point of it. Kept waiting for it to warm up – rubbish

  8. Completely agree with Victor. Olivia Coleman is simply too repulsive to be in movies, and they add to it in this movie by constantly having her breasts hanging out. Terrible movie. Made me sick.

  9. I think Leda was the lost daughter to her own mother with whom, it is hinted, she did not have a good relationship. As a mother herself she found it difficult to be present with her own daughters repeating the cycle. Motherhood can be very difficult and without full commitment we all run the risk of losing a child and its precious childhood.

  10. never mind who loved whom or who was hurt or lost ~ figuratively or really ~ ~ the real question is: How were we, the viewers, supposed to know that the younger mother with the 2 girls was supposed to be flashbacks from the older coleman mother ~ ?! I thought they were all living in the same time frame until I read the credits at the end and it said something about older leda and younger leda ~ ~ sheesh ! did I miss something or was it just not clear at all ~ ~ ?!

  11. Dakota, bad actress as always. Olivia, so incredibly boring and so unatractive I don’t know how she gets so many lead roles. Most boring movie of the year. An emotional disconnected, selfish, mean woman. So what ? And sooooo slow

  12. It is interesting to see all these comments and perceptions. Ultimately I feel that a filmmaker has a responsibility to not leave the viewer confused. The movie was indeed very confusing at times, with a lot of loose ends and scraps of information that lead nowhere. The acting by Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley was superb; however, it could not compensate for the deficits in the script. I think the flashbacks were the most interesting part of the movie. The theme of parenting being difficult and isolating, especially without support, was the most developed aspect of the film. I could relate to her desire to follow her passion for her career. She did care about her children. She was very organized and thorough when the babysitter came so she could go to the conference. She was just overwhelmed, and things went downhill accordingly. Not every professional woman has family support or the wherewithal for a nanny. This is the crux of the story and I wish it had been explored in a more focused way without the distraction of all the puzzling plot flaws.

  13. A terrible movie…there was no ending unless one is living in the spiritual world…Maggie should stick to acting!!

  14. It is upsetting that the Ed Harris character and the vagabond hiker both left their children with little fanfare, little guilt, yet Leda does not get to pursue her talents and grow into motherhood, and is left with so much guilt that it leads to mental deterioration. She does not have a culture of support (and neither does the young mother on the beach despite having so many around her) and Leda’s passionate being is also supposed to be repressed. Tough luck if you are a woman.

  15. I don’t care if she lived or died in the end. She was a failure as a mother and walked away from her girls for sex with a peer and her career. The whole depressing morose affair with all of the dead end characters and hints of foreboding was painful to watch. A waste of two hours.

  16. I loved the film. I felt ledas guilt. Its not easy being a young mum when you’re craving excitement. She made a choice which she regretted in later life. I felt sorry for her. She portrayed the character brilliantly

  17. The most boring movie 🍿 🎥 I have ever seen. Older Leda was a selfish unattached mother that had 2 daughters and left them behind for her career. She was not taken care of by her own mother, and did the same to her own daughters, when she was around. She was careless and abandoned them after she got a taste of being free and liberated from the girls and her husband when she first left on a work trip. She ended up alone and unhappy. It also seems like she had mental health problems and lots of regret. She saw her younger self in Nina, and she knew that raising two daughters was difficult but I think she missed and regret not being in their lives and became close to Nina to sort of help herself re-live her past. Leda still hasn’t healed and I felt like she wanted to see Nina fail like she did herself so that she’s not the only miserable soul out there because she told Nina it doesn’t get better than this, instead of telling her not make the same mistake she made, and to make her marriage work while she still can, she didn’t. She wanted Nina to come back for the keys 🔑 to her apartment so Nina can spend time with Will & help ruin her marriage. I think she died at the end after she fell to the shore and when the wave 🌊 of water 💦 hit her face, she was already dead and passed over to the other side. I don’t think she really had the chance to speak to her daughters on the phone in reality especially because the orange 🍊 appeared out of nowhere and she didn’t have any idea where it came from, so in reality things don’t just appear unless you’re imagining them. Sadly Leda was the lost one from her own upbringing and never figured how to find happiness, so she always ran from others (her girls), ended up alone, and died alone.

  18. I think whether Leda dies or not is not the main point. The movie was portrayed through Leda’s eyes and the viewer sees the story through her perception. She was always unhappy, ungrateful and lost. She was seeking escape right from the start, she was never present in the lives of her daughters, she was distant and didn’t even kiss her daughter’s finger when she begged her mother for a kiss- very disturbing scene. She stole the doll as a way to recover a thing from her past that was important to her and yet she destroyed, that is a metaphor for the loss of family and motherhood and the loss of childhood. She is definitely insane. Her relationship with her daughters seem like a dream at times especially when they’re all happy, something she created in her head because in reality she was cold and distant with them. The Orange in any story signifies danger. So the dream of her with her daughters peeling an orange and the sudden appearance of the orange when talking on the phone with her daughter, both scenes happened only in her unconscious mind and so, they never happened. Also, dead people don’t know they’re dead so her saying “yes Im alive” doesn’t make it true not to mention no living person ever has to prove their existence to anyone. She died and the last scene on the beach was her spirit being released from her pain as we see her happy and in the heaven of her own making. Just an opinion.

  19. I think Leda was the lost daughter…she admits that her “mum” raised her daughters. Leda’s mum lost her daughter to the life Leda chose over her own daughter’s up bringing.

  20. At the end it got boring! I left that Leda seemed to enjoy the little girl suffering similar to when Leda through her own doll out of the window to spite her own daughter! Leda was tormented and didn’t have any remorse some 23 years later. I left The ending was insignificant as Leda roll was a Pathetic person who was spiteful and she believed and life was unfair to her.

  21. The most boring movie I have ever seen the storyline was annoying olivia coleman does her usual amount of crying as she does in most of her movies
    Very dissappointing

  22. I feel lost daughter has a literary and figurative significance. Leda’s daughters became lost to her when she abandons them. Nina’s daughter was literally lost for a while. Leda herself was a lost daughter since she refers to her own mother as very difficult. Her obsession with the doll even as a mature woman and knowing the suffering she is causing to a child shows she is utterly lost.

  23. i hate complicated and selfish people , but i am fascinated by them.
    leda is crazy and for sure has a mental disorder.

    in my interpretation, leda didn’t die and the dialogue with her daughters existes only in her imagination .

  24. I was confused all through the movie. Why was she ill and the ending was very disappointing. Dead or alive. Was it all a dream?

  25. I get it, but I think more should have been included for the average viewer. To me, both mothers, described how difficult motherhood can really be. Without a strong support system, without friends, without an outlet to emote, you cannot raise children. They constantly try your patience and in those moments, nothing is easy, and there appears no way out. Both mothers exhibited forms of depression in addition to their inadequities as a mother. That combination can be overwhelming. So, I get it. It doesn’t matter what happened exactly in the ending. Either way, it looks as though Leda made peace with her demons.

  26. After all the hype I was disappointed. The acting was good but the story was too confusing. I think Leda died so hopefully no sequel!

  27. Complete waste of two hours of my time. Beyond boring. A sequel – you have to be kidding!!!!

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