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06th Jan 2022

Netflix’s The Lost Daughter praised for taboo representation of motherhood

Sarah McKenna Barry

The film explores motherhood taboos without using them for shock value.

One of Netflix’s latest additions – The Lost Daughter – is winning fans for representing the taboo side of motherhood.

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s film, which is based on Ellen Ferrante’s short story of the same name, stars Olivia Colman as Leda, a college professor on a working holiday in a Greek resort.

There, she becomes transfixed by Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her toddler Elena as she reflects on her own complicated relationship with motherhood.

Leda gets off to a rocky start with Nina’s large American family. Nina’s sister asks Leda to move her lounger so that their family can sit together on the beach, a request she refuses. Later, the family attempt to make amends with Leda by talking about their shared experiences as mothers. However, this fails as they simply don’t have common ground in this respect. Leda has a strained relationship with her adult children, a dynamic that is unflinchingly explored through a series of flashbacks.

In them, we see Irish actress Jessie Buckley play young Leda as she fails to connect with her two daughters Martha and Bianca. She frequently loses her patience with them, and eventually decides to leave. She only returns to them when she misses them, which, it transpires, is rare.

The flashback sequences are painful to watch, but instead of framing Leda’s abandonment as a huge mistake, The Lost Daughter choses to deviate from society’s expectation that all mothers love their children inherently. On the contrary, Leda prefers to be away from her children, and describes herself as an “unnatural mother”.

Gyllenhaal refuses to frame her abandonment of her family as empowering, but she doesn’t cast it as soul-destroying either. Instead, it’s something that just happens, and in this way, The Lost Daughter explores a taboo without sensationalising it, or using it for shock value.

The Lost Daughter is now streaming on Netflix.