Deliciously sharp in its retaliation against conventional understandings of motherhood,Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut (adapted from a novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante) discards the undercurrent of love that festers beneath any cinematically troubled maternal relationship and sweats out the chaos in the unnatural mother. Olivia Colman’s knack for fascinatingly hateful characters treds new soil as a comparative literature professor and reluctant mother, Leda; whilst the fluid echoes from the disrupted prime years of her youth, as delivered by Jessie Buckley, articulates the unspeakable shadow of motherhood and the reality of dissecting the self in a stage of simultaneous self-discovery.
Maternal dramas cling to the dichotomy of the mother/daughter relationship; where Gilmore Girls and Ladybird permeate that familiar time of maternal unrest with the obvious answer of love and protection, Leda’s desperate clawing’s for selfhood manifest increasingly in a thriving anger against the traditional expectations of motherhood. As both a drama and unconscious thriller, Gyllenhaal’s adaptation, may feel slow and underwhelming to some particularly with its promise of jarring shots and mutilated dolls, yet in its minimalism, unwilling mothers are made natural, as it exposes the selfishness in claiming femininity without purpose. Exploring Greece for both academic research and recreation, Leda’s escape becomes transfixed with young mother Nina, who no doubt signifies a more bohemian reflection of Leda’s own youth. With a skeletal narrative, the majority of Leda’s
present-day reclining’s are interjected with the disappearance of Nina’s daughter, Elena and later, Elena’s toy doll. As part of a large family gathering as well as being accompanied by abusive relationships and adultery, Nina is both mothered and mirrored by Leda throughout, as viewers are never sure of certainty in anticipating Leda intentions.
Supping up lashings of discovery in Leda’s past, the film’s temporal fluctuations tease a perfect revelation for Leda’s primal aggressions and yet where Gyllenhaal succeeds, is in articulating what is vacuous rather than protruding; Leda’s extramarital affairs and fleeting relationship with her children doesn’t accelerate but haunts the narrative. With her jagged kindness, Leda’s actions are given neither justification or condemnation and yet, inebriated by trauma and guilt, it provides the catalyst of her movements appear unknown even to herself. This is a woman twisting herself through life whilst trying to claw at any scrap of individuality and rebellion.
Performing both maternally and maliciously towards Nina, Leda defines herself through her ability to remain undefined; and where the plot’s slow but apprehensive festering reaches what appears to be a quaint equilibrium on the beachfront, what I find to be the most fascinating feature of beautifully directionless film is its use of sound. Where clatter of plastic toys and the whispered chant of orange peeling emits a perfect claustrophobia within Leda’s world, language- particularly Italian performs as a vessel for escape. Indistinguishable to the English viewer with the absence of subtitles, the poetic rhythms of Italian classics manifest into a mystique and crucially confidential mode of female communication- where Leda’s voice is pawed at in parenting, she finds articulation and pulse in academia and alternative cultural societies.
Over the span of two hours and an unsteady ambiguous ending, Gyllenhaal flourishes in exposing the myth of the natural mother and leaves viewers yearning for a selfhood that is both intoxicated and freed from societal femininity. The balance of family and career is pined now to be easier than ever in the ‘thriving’ newness of 3rd wave feminism, and where Gyllenhaal channels Leda as a modern women within this hybrid, the brilliance of The Lost Daughter comes from its refusal to shy away from the reality that juggling your plates is still really bloody hard.
Featured Image: Still via Youtube//The Lost Daughter | Official Trailer | Netflix