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  • courtneyward09

The Lost Daughter

I'll be honest. I'm not too sure about this one. I liked it. I thought it was beautiful – in a dark way -- but it wasn't what I was expecting. And maybe that's my fault. I shouldn't have gone into it with any expectations. A raw viewing would have probably made my analysis of this film more objective.

But I went into it thinking I was getting a film about the struggles of motherhood. And while that storyline was there, it was more of a subplot. Overall, I felt like I was watching a cerebral thriller surrounding a shady family on vacation.

And looking back, I’m sure that is what the film is meant to be. However, when I read articles and watched interviews about the film prior to its release, the conversation kept reverting to the perils of parenting and how the lead character, Leda, handled it.

Perhaps that’s because the parts of parenting that aren’t all sunshine and rainbows are rarely exposed in such an authentic way. Sure, we’ve seen scenes where mothers break down and cry and beg for some alone time, but how often have we seen a mother just up and leave her children – and not regret her decision at all. Toward the end of the film, when you see the moment a young Leda decides to leave, there’s a smile of relief and certainty on her face.

What we see in those flashbacks is what I thought most of the film would be. And I found the flashbacks to be far more interesting than the shady-family-on-vacation plot. Yes, we need those scenes to connect present day to the past, but young Leda could have been a film on its own. And the flashbacks left me with so many unanswered questions.

What exactly was her husband's job? Why was she always with the kids even though she had her own work and academic studies? How long did she have the affair and how did her husband find out about it? He pleaded with her to take him back, though that may have been from his own fears of parenting alone. That should have humbled him since the weight of parenting is part of why Leda left in the first place. She told him she was suffocating, but her pleas were ignored. Instead, he threatened her with leaving himself and giving the children to her mother, which Leda clearly did not want. They don’t explain it, but it was apparent that Leda did not have a great childhood nor a great relationship with her own mother. Leda says she left and then came back because she’s a selfish person, but I wonder if there was a part of her that wanted to spare her children some of the negativity that she had as a child because she thought she couldn’t take care of them in the way that society tells you a mother should.

But back to my lingering questions.

What happened in the three years she was gone? Did she see or talk to the girls at all? And what happened when she came back? Did they welcome her with open arms or were they resentful? By the time she came back, the girls would have been old enough to be aware of their mother’s absence. In present day, Leda appears to have a relationship with her girls. It's not perfect but what parent-child relationship is? How did her leaving affect them? Surely, it must have. Did they move past it as they got older? Do they understand why? Has Leda explained it to them? Three years is a long time, especially for a child, but it's also a short blip in the big picture of a long life.

Beyond all of that, I thought the movie did its part in falling into the category of being “cerebral.” You know, when the production is clearly artistic in nature. Lack of dialogue, relying heavily on your actors’ abilities, holes in the story that the audience needs to fill in themselves based on little snippets of information or visuals that are given along the way.

In the scenes with little to no dialogue, the actors’ work was phenomenal. There was a lot of staring, smiling, and awkward silences. Some were tense, like between Callie and Leda. Others were endearing like between Leda and Nina. But what complements the acting is direction. And there were some shots that I didn’t understand. They completely took me out of the story and made me think “what was that for?” Example, the several close up shots of Nina. We’re meant to be seeing Nina as if we’re looking at her through Leda’s eyes. From Leda’s vantage point, she sees a young version of herself wanting to have a relaxing vacation but instead she is constantly interrupted by her child. This makes sense when Nina is with her daughter, but why the extreme close ups of her in a bathing suit when her daughter is not around? And there appeared to be a lot of sexual tension between the characters that I didn’t think was needed for the story. Why did Nina touch Leda's chest on the inside of her shirt? Why did she kiss her at the vendor stalls on the beach? And the staring while sheepishly grinning and never saying anything. Why was young Leda so close to the female hiker who was interested in her work?

Is it a metaphor for longing? A desire for closeness to someone other than a small child pulling at you all day long. You're so desperate for adult interaction, you'll take it from anywhere?

And even the present-day scenes left me with questions. What exactly does Nina's family do? How much did Lyle interpret about Leda, especially after he saw the doll. Surely, he didn’t say anything to the family because he also knows they’re bad people. What would they have done to Leda had she stayed on the island?

And then, of course, there’s the question who is the lost daughter?

The obvious answer is Nina’s daughter, Elena. Her getting lost on the beach is how Leda’s obsession with Nina begins. But I would argue that the lost daughter is Leda. She was lost in motherhood, and she lost herself to motherhood. She desperately wanted to get out but didn’t know how. She saw her opening for freedom when they met the hikers and she learned that he had left his children behind to roam free with a new love. She acted on it when she met the scholar and started an affair. And even though she left her children, she still came back because she missed them.

The film ends with her sitting on the beach (with a stab wound), peeling an orange and talking to her girls. In that moment, the ones she wanted to speak with are her daughters. Maybe it was being close to death. Maybe it was all the memories that came flooding back, but it seems fitting that a film, promoted as a look at the harsh realities of motherhood, ends with a mother not only wanting, but needing, to talk to her children.

It probably doesn’t sound like it based on this review, but I truly did enjoy the film. I appreciated the authentic portrayal of grappling with the struggles of motherhood. And the top notch acting. And even though I walked away from it with more questions than answers, I don’t expect a film to spell it all out for you by the time the end credits roll.

I don’t know. I should probably just go read the book.

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