Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Our Mother of Perpetual Sorrow

Film: The Lost Daughter
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

I haven’t been putting up a lot of reviews lately, and I always have intention to change that. Life, work, all the rest get in the way. Here it is October and I still have nearly half a dozen Oscar films to finish up, which means getting through at least one more this month if I want to get done by the end of the year. So I picked The Lost Daughter for no reason other than it was one of the longer movies I had left, and I knew I was going to watch it eventually anyway. I went into this cold, knowing only that it earned Olivia Colman another Oscar nom. I like Colman, but it’s hard not to see her right now as one of the Oscar flavors-of-the-month.

The Lost Daughter is a slow movie, one that is contemplative, but not in a direction that is comfortable or easy. Leda Caruso (Colman) is on vacation in Greece. She is a noted translator and successful university professor. She has a run-in with a vacationing family, but then ends up redeeming herself when their young daughter goes missing at the beach. Leda finds the girl, but also steals the girl’s beloved doll for reasons that are initially unknown.

The missing doll becomes a real problem. The girl’s mother, Nina (Dakota Johnson) is slowly reaching the end of her rope with the constant crying. As Leda and Nina grow a little closer, Leda discovers some things about Nina and her family. Nina’s husband Toni (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is controlling. This is likely what has caused Nina to start an affair with Will (Paul Mescal), a college student who works at the resort during the summer.

Much of the story that we are seeing is Leda coming to terms with her past (played in her younger incarnation by Jessie Buckley), and slowly we’re going to start to understand at least a little of why she stole the doll. Leda was, by her own admission, an unnatural mother. We learn over the course of the film that Leda’s relationship with her daughters, Bianca and Martha, is not a normal one. Leda evidently suffered from severe postpartum depression, and while she tried to care for her daughters as much as she could, she found it increasingly impossible. Eventually, she runs off with another man for three years, leaving the girls in the care of her estranged husband and her mother.

What is interesting here, ultimately is Leda’s coming to terms of her own abandonment of her children. But that gets to the heart of the movie and really needs to be discussed under a spoiler tag.


A significant reason for Leda’s behavior is a very odd guilt that she feels. She doesn’t specifically feel guilty for abandoning her daughters. She talks about specifically how great she felt on her own and without her daughters. She warns Nina that the exhaustion she feels and her depression will never go away. This is where her guilt comes from. She’s not guilty that she left her daughters when they needed her. She feels guilty because she enjoyed leaving and didn’t feel worse about doing it.

So why did she steal the doll? I’m not entirely sure, but I have some ideas. The doll, in a way, becomes her surrogate for Bianca and Martha. She buys doll clothing and bathes the doll, but also becomes frustrated with it, throwing it out at one point. Leda seems as someone detached from everything around her. She is entirely in her own head and her own world because she is mentally and emotionally self-sufficient in many ways. There are clear opportunities for romance for her in Greece, both younger (Will, who ends up with Nina), and older in the person of Lyle (Ed Harris), who is the caretaker of the place in Greece she has rented. She doesn’t appear to be overly interested in them, though. She’s living in her regret, and she seems to be comfortable in it.


This is an unpleasant movie. It’s not a bad one, but it’s one of those movies where just about everyone in it (the characters, not the actors) are terrible people, absorbed in themselves and their own worlds and convinced of their own importance in their otherwise mean little lives. It’s a hard movie to like, even if I respect it. It is, though, an impressive directorial debut from Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Why to watch The Lost Daughter (2022): Great casting.
Why not to watch: Everyone is terrible.


  1. I thought it was an amazing film as I liked what Maggie Gyllenhaal did as it explored a woman dealing with this young woman who might not be this good mother as she reflects on her own past and faults as it was better than I thought it would be. I hope to see more from Maggie as a filmmaker while she also acts as I just re-watched Secretary on MUBI last month as it still holds up and NEEDS to be given a new remaster from the Criterion Collection.

    1. I have a tendency to like Maggie Gyllenhaal in general, so I was interested to see her directorial debut. I'm not sure what I was expecting here, but this was different from what I thought it would be.