The Lost Daughter (2021)
R for just an overall bleak and miserable tone. There's sex, violence, language, and drinking. Honestly, there's absolutely nothing wholesome in this film, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just that Leda has some baggage to her that often touches on elements of The Awakening.
DIRECTOR: Maggie Gyllenhaal
I'm going to put myself out there and be vulnerable. I'm going to hate myself after writing this, but early 20s me had a real artistic crush on Maggie Gyllenhaal. Yeah, let that sink in. She was just so dark and moody. I would imagine her drinking coffee at a diner at 3:00 am, a little drunk and smoking a cigarette and yelling about me about how boring I was. In light of this revelation, I probably have more self-esteem issues that I have to analyze, but that's the truth. Now, I didn't know that Maggie Gyllenhaal had anything to do with this movie until it ended. But the first thing I thought was, "Of course! It all makes so much sense."
Yeah, I'm going to agree that it's probably not Best Picture worthy. I'll support the Academy when it comes to not giving it the nomination. But I do agree with the nominations that it did get. If I, Tonya is the gold standard for snubbed films, The Lost Daughter is no I, Tonya. But what it is fascinates me. It's the piece as a whole. Part of it is the ambiguity of the movie. Another part is the performance and the cynicism behind life as a whole. But maybe the most joyful thing, for me, is that I have no idea who I can recommend this movie for. It hits my buttons really hard, despite the fact that it didn't go places that I wanted it to go and that at times, it's a little boring. Maybe some of that comes from the idea that I really bond to unlikable characters. (This also supports the notion that I want to be friends with someone who humiliates me in a diner at 3:00 am.) But it has a whole vibe that is crushing. And the crazy thing --the absolute craziest thing --is that I hate The Awakening. I find it abhorrent, despite the fact that I'm constantly trying to be a better feminist. That book frustrates me and triggers me so hard. Yet this film? I'm all on board.
A good chunk of that feeling comes from the notion that The Lost Daughter never pretends that Leda has the answers. She never has her moment where she can justify her behavior because something. I mean, it's not to say that she's not relatable. I don't think I've ever bonded more with a movie than when young Leda is lying on the floor, allowing herself to be whacked in the head by her child, just so she could have a moment's rest. I don't know Gyllenhaal's background, but there are some aggressive parent vibes that people don't talk about that often. There's always the hilariously burned out parent in movies, but the real burned out parent is that scene. There's nothing funny about it, but I have also felt such an intense kinship with this moment. But because The Lost Daughter is so bleak and pushing boundaries, we have Leda handle that scene differently than I would. Leda has a lot shorter of a fuse than the rest of us do. While Gyllenhaal allows us to view Leda at her best and Leda at her worst, the film really focuses on those lows more than anything else.
And I keep coming back to The Awakening. I mean, the crux of the story is the notion that her spouse comes across as neglectful of her needs, so she abandons her family for a long period of time. Joe is kind of undefined for the film. While Kate Chopin definitely makes the Monsieur Pontellier the antagonist of the film, there's something kind of sympathetic about Joe. Yeah, he's missing some key cries for help, but they both seem so young and naive. It's never out of selfishness that he neglects Leda. It's just that he can't often see the forest through the trees. Leda's breakdown is almost to the point that she probably should never have been a mother. Gyllenhaal never really spells that out for us, but that's because Gyllenhaal is doing something really smart with the story. The film lets us read into moments with our own lenses. There are beats that can be read in multiple different ways and they are all right and they are all wrong.
Leda's selfishness manifests itself from basic human conditions. She wants to be valued as an adult with intellect. She wants to be considered sexy by celebrity, even small time celebrities like Hardy. This all encapsulates itself in the need for everyday being different, which is definitely not the case when you have a family with kids. There's a sense of sameness that becomes poison. Leda swears that she loves her kids, but resents them for stealing her life. The irony of this is that adult Leda embraces a sense of sameness. Colman's portrayal of the aging Leda is depressed with the sameness, yet she keeps returning to the same beach chair and the same location for her working vacation, which oddly seems devoid of any productive work. It's the notion that we tell ourselves that we are the victims of our own martyrdom. Leda keeps finding ways to inject drama into her life, which makes her seem more sympathetic than she is. She keeps this doll that would make the daughter be less dramatic. If Leda returned the doll quickly, it would sever her connection to this toxic family on the beach. Heck, they would probably even celebrate her more than they do for finding Nina's daughter.
But Leda needs that victimhood to a certain respect. She returns to the family after three years. Her nuclear moment of running away with Hardy loses its edge, causing her to make waves again. She creates this antagonism with this family by being intentionally caustic while simultaneously befriending them. There's a certain element of paradoxical behavior with Leda and Nina's family. She provokes them when it comes to the beach chair. Sure, Leda is in the right. She absolutely should keep that beach chair. But society understands that when someone asks for something, we probably should give it to them if we want to be accepted as a good person. And there is so much poking of the bear that Leda actually comes across as somewhat insane. Her caressing of the doll, polluted with sludge coming out of its mouth, seems terrifying. There are moments of what seem like lost time. The doll isn't where she remembers putting it. The fruit is rotting. Despite the fact that Leda isn't exactly the narrator, she has the traits of an unreliable narrator when it comes to solving the mystery of her.
It's a gorgeous film that graciously leaves me with more questions than answers. Sometimes I hate this. Sometimes I love this. If I had to rate it objectively, I would find it a well-performed piece that is incredible frustrating. But I also like incredibly frustrating sometimes, so a round of applause all around for The Lost Daughter.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.