By: Amanda Guarragi
In Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut The Lost Daughter we see a college professor named Leda (Olivia Colman) confront her unsettling past. On vacation in Italy, she becomes obsessed with a woman named Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her young daughter. These encounters throughout the film prompt memories of Leda’s early motherhood. Gyllenhaal’s intimate and introspective lens of being a woman first and a mother second allows the viewer to connect with Leda on such a deep, emotional level. Even though the film may overstay its welcome, the story itself is worth exploring with Colman giving a nuanced performance.
Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut was strong because of how she treated her female characters. She pulled out a very complex and layered performance from Colman. Even though the narrative was somewhat disjointed – in order to understand the fragmented pieces of Leda’s mind when remembering her two daughters – the placement of each memory worked for the present day situation. The quick cuts from present day to a flashback, showed how certain conversations trigger an emotional response. Gyllenhaal explored a woman tackling a life she was pressured into and not ready for. The question she poses is this: How does one keep their independence while building a family?
Although Gyllenhaal leans heavily on Colman’s performance, it is Jessie Buckley’s performance of young Leda that forms an interesting, well-rounded character. Without young Leda’s frustration and anxiety with her daughters in her daily life, the interactions between older Leda and Nina wouldn’t have been as effective. We see young Leda struggling with her identity while she goes on this journey of motherhood and not being fully present at home. She still wanted to be an individual without her daughters being an extension of her. Gyllenhaal shows the full spectrum of motherhood in this film and how it can affect women mentally and emotionally.
The Lost Daughter is an impressive directorial debut from Maggie Gyllenhaal. The moments that women fear most when becoming a mother are fully explored in this film by Colman, Buckley, and Johnson. The way that Gyllenhaal framed Johnson when interacting with Colman created a deep level of understanding and connection, that did’t need further explaining. That one moment of understanding, when making eye contact between women can always be more powerful than words. Gyllenhaal paints an interesting portrait of women at different stages of their lives trying to understand the meaning of individuality and being present in their child’s life.