The Lost Daughter (2021) Netflix Movie Review – A compelling psychodrama on the torments of motherhood

A Compelling Psychodrama on the Torments of Motherhood

It’s a strenuous task to humanize “bad” parents. Maybe it’s due to the personal nature of the subject; after all, each of us is someone’s daughter or son, carrying some respective grievances from childhood. Whatever it is, parents are held to a high standard, and mothers especially are not let off any hooks. So what happens when Maggie Gyllenhaal takes an unflinching look at the mother who can’t handle the demands of parenthood? What takes place when the director asks, “Can we blame her?”

For her directorial debut, The Lost Daughter, Gyllenhaal adapts Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel of the same name. Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley co-star as older and younger versions of Leda Caruso, respectively.

Leda, a professor and translator, takes a summer holiday to a beach in Greece. She’s alone, but memories of her daughters haunt her when she fixates on Nina (Dakota Johnson), a young mother with a small daughter.

Nina’s struggle with her daughter reminds Leda of raising her own two daughters, Bianca and Martha. Each memory plunges us further into the torment of motherhood. Although sweet moments between Leda and her daughters aren’t passed over, Gyllenhaal takes care to highlight that the joys of motherhood in Leda’s case don’t necessarily make up for the sorrows.

The psychology of Colman’s character instantly fascinates. The 48-year-old takes what she wants, even to the point of embarrassment or rudeness. But flashbacks to her old life reveal that she didn’t always allow herself this freedom. With two daughters, a busy husband, and an incredible job she’s forced to sideline–Leda as a young mother was never allowed a sliver of anything for herself. That is, unless she took extreme measures. Unless she became the “bad” parent.

It’s utterly compelling the way The Lost Daughter forces viewers to relate to and sympathize with a woman whose actions are often objectively contemptible by society’s standards. But Gyllenhaal, in conjunction with Ferrante’s novel, daringly indicts the same society that would put mothers in impossible positions.

It’s not ever apparent just what the deal is with Nina’s family. However, the roles they play in the film are important to Leda’s development. It’s almost as if the supporting characters serve more as symbols than plot devices.

What is clear, however, is Leda’s complex relationship to her daughters, and to the wider world. Her story is a poignant, if not always palatable, feminist message to a world that frequently portrays mothers’ responsibilities as black and white. 

The Lost Daughter isn’t an easy watch. But it is gripping, even in its creeping pace. As it draws you into its ominous setting to explore the complex world of motherhood, you’ll quickly realize things aren’t what they seem.

Together, Ferrante’s poetic idea, Colman’s enthralling performance, and Gyllenhaal’s clever direction make The Lost Daughter one of the best films of the year.

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  • Verdict - 9/10

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