Who is the daughter in the title The Lost Daughter? If you’re thinking of some Lifetime movie thriller about a kidnapped young girl, then that’s not the case. There is a very brief scene in which a young girl goes missing at the beach, but she’s quickly found. I think the “lost” in the title is more figurative and symbolic. I would even argue it’s actually the main protagonist, Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman), who is middle-aged and on a solo holiday trip in Greece.
Leda is a college professor and noted translator who thinks she’s enjoying a little “me time” when a group of Greek-Americans arrive and bring with them a bunch of dudebro mentality and loudness that gets on Leda’s nerve. The images of Leda just sitting on a beach watching all this says it all. Who hasn’t wanted a nice quiet time out only to see if ruined by people who are boozed up and don’t care who they bother?
Leda initially gets on their bad side when she refuses to move her spot on the beach when they more or less expect her to, leading to some profane insults. But that is quickly smoothed over or we think when Leda is offered birthday cake from the pregnant Callie Calisto (Dagmara Domincyzk) but it’s apparent from the interaction, Leda doesn’t want any cake. Director Maggie Gyllenhaal gives us a lot of the scenes to show that Leda is not too happy that she’s having to share the beach with the Greek family, who are mostly like connected to organized crime.
But Leda gets on their good side when Elena (Athena Martin), the daughter of Nina (Dakota Johnson) goes missing one day at the beach and Leda is able to find her. A bond grows between Leda and Nina. But what Nina doesn’t know is that Leda has taken Elena’s favorite doll and the absence of it is making Elena upset.
This causes Leda to flashback (where she is portrayed by Jessie Buckley) to when she was in her 20s raising two daughters with her husband, Joe (Jack Farthing) who expected as most men did back then (and still do) a more-traditional mother who took care of the kids and the house while holding down a career of her own. This stress of which caused Leda to become very angry and agitated at her daughters a lot. At one point, she gets angry when she passes along a doll she had as a child to her daughter only to discover her daughter marked it all up. Enraged, Leda throws it out the window where it shatters into pieces on the street.
Back in present time, it’s obvious the hotel caretaker, Lyle (Ed Harris) is smitten with Leda, who reveals she’s 48. Colman is actually 47 and a lot of women will say she’s brave to appear in many scenes where she wears a swimsuit and doesn’t have a model-like body. Not saying Colman isn’t beautiful, she is. And Lyle knows it. As he tries to start up a relationship with her.
But Leda is more smitten with Will (Paul Mescal), a 20-something assistant at the hotel. One evening, she invites to take Will out to dinner and you can tell that Will is kinda attracted to Leda. But at the same time, Will is having an affair with Nina while her husband, Toni (Oliver-Jackson Cohen) is mostly MIA but still controlling of her life. And like most men, Toni expects Nina to be the only parent in the relationship. But Leda is noticing how Nina gets frustrated just as she did with having to be the only parent.
There’s a term I’ve seen a lot lately on social media, “weaponized incompetence,” in which men in relationships act if they can’t do simple things, such as laundry, washing dishes or even getting their kids dressed, so the women will do it all. Being Greeks and possibly connected, it’s obvious Nina is Toni’s trophy wife and at one time, she runs to greet him by jumping in his arms like a child and wrapping her legs around him. So, maybe she is the lost daughter. Women are expected to be the mother to their children and the “sexy girlfriend” to their husbands.
At one point when she was raising her daughters, Nina had an affair with a colleague, Hardy (Peter Sarsgaard) at a conference. She later got fed up with being a mother that she walked out on her marriage and motherhood, leaving Joe and her mother to raise her daughters for three years. Leda tells all this to Nina who expresses she may be having the same feelings but hopes one day it’ll all pass.
A lot of people won’t like The Lost Daughter because it’s ending is somewhat ambiguous and Leda both in the flashbacks and present day isn’t portrayed as Betty Homemaker/June Cleaver hybrid. But others might find some comfort and relief in seeing problems they go through on a daily basis. There seems to be an expectation that women should have children. Even Pope Francis said it. It was geared toward men and women, but we all know the target was mostly women. Women are still not allowed to get tubal litigation or even have their ovaries removed due to health issues because they “may meet a man who will want to have kids.”
Leda even says at one point she’s an “unnatural mother.” But I think Leda is just one of many women who either thought motherhood would fill a void or got roped into motherhood through a relationship that fizzed. She divorced Joe. And she spent those three years away only returning because she said she was selfish and missed them. But it’s different for men to leave because they can’t handle parenthood. It’s more accepted for men to walk out and only occasionally visit. Even if they stay married, they can spend weekends and evenings at the card tables or on the golf course with the boys.
Several married fathers I know are asking people to stop complimenting them for being fathers for doing normal things like taking their kids shopping or to the park/zoo for the day. You think that Toni’s not out screwing his brains out with younger women who haven’t given birth to children? It seems women are expected to be mothers, but for many it’s a lot of work and some of them suffer stress, anxiety and depression, which is what both Nina and Leda do. And it’s perfectly normal and should be accepted.
Gyllenhaal also wrote the screenplay based on the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante who would only allow a woman to direct an adaptation. I don’t think a man would fully understand the novel and how to adapt it. I can see some people walking away from this movie thinking that Leda or Nina are bad mothers. But it’s only because we’re afraid as a society to talk about what many women go through on a regular basis.
One of the main reasons for an abortion that some people don’t or won’t grasp is that some women just don’t want to have children. It’s okay for men to have sex and “sow their wild oats” but if a woman does it, she’s a slut or whore. She should face the consequences, they say. Why can’t men face the consequences of not wanting to wear a condom?
Gen Xers and Millennials are saying they don’t want to have children. And maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe the world would’ve been a better place if some people from the Baby Boomers or Silent Generation never had kids. I think a lot of people from that era were treated badly as they were young and many women were unable to do much except get married and have kids. Knowing that you could have had a different life if you weren’t stuck in a marriage of convenience can make anyone bitter and mad. They used to call women who didn’t get married “Old Maids” or “Old Spinsters.” Then they started calling them “independent.”
But your life shouldn’t revolve around whether or not you are married with children. I remember they used to tell women to have children before their early 30s or else the child would have developmental disabilities. Now, they say, that children born to women in their 30s or 40s will turn out just find. Callie says she’s 42. Guilty women into getting pregnant by saying they will have children with Down’s syndrome or autism is a disgustingly low tactic.
Maybe the “lost daughter” refers to all the women who found themselves lost in a life they never wanted but societal, generational and cultural norms stuck them in a labyrinth they couldn’t get out of so easily or not at all?
What do you think? Please comment.