In her directing and writing debut Maggie Gyllenhaal gives us The Lost Daughter, a courageous look at the “maternal instinct”… which isn’t. Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman), a college professor, is vacationing in a quaint Greek resort. Traveling alone with her books, she is enjoying a lazy day on the beach when she observes Nina (Dakota Johnson), a distracted young mother,who is not watching her little girl. When her daughter goes missing, Leda manages to find her. In a series of flashbacks, a younger Leda (played by Jessie Buckley) has a troubled relationship with her two daughters. The two women–Leda and Nina–seem to have parallel lives.
The Lost Daughter is a multi-layered, nuanced look at how overwhelming and relentless parenting can often feel. Unbearable feelings of guilt are hard to suppress. It’s rare to see such a raw look at the emotions behind what is often referred to as the joy of motherhood. [I am reminded of the phenomenal 2021 novel, The Push, by Ashley Audrain.]
Colman and Buckley give supeb perfomances as Leda. But not all is well here. The Lost Daughter is amorphous with little backstory to explain why and how Leda became such a damaged mother. This resulted in not caring or becoming sympathetic to their unfortunate relationship with their daughters and the dilemmas and difficult choices they felt they had to make.
How much of a woman’s identity is given up for the sake of mothering a child?. The Lost Daughter is a compelling portrait of troubled motherhood. Nina and Leda have no obvious support for things unsaid. Although The Lost Daughter lacks sufficient backstory to understand why motherhood can be so difficult for Leda, it is a fascinating venture into unmarked territory.
Availability: Netflix streaming