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 interpretation–there 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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