Even though 2022 is unlikely to bring about that vacation to Santorini I’ve been dreaming about, this week the Blog Collab provides an alternative: Olivia Colman going to Greece and lazing around on a beach. Admittedly she’s bringing along plenty of familial baggage for the ride, and not in a Mamma Mia! spin-off sort of way. Hooray?
The Lost Daughter
While vacationing on her own, a professor meets a young mother and daughter, leading her to reflect on the choices she made as a mother.
For a woman vacationing on a beautiful beach in Greece, Leda doesn’t seem to be enjoying herself much. As a professor who studies literature in translation, she’s on a working holiday that is frequently interrupted by a rowdy group of tourists from Queens. One woman in particular with a young daughter draws Leda’s attention and takes her back to memories of her own experiences as a young mother.
Through observation, Leda learns that the young woman, Nina, is in an unhappy marriage with a controlling husband. Nina seems to be short on patience with her daughter Elena, who is never seen without her precious doll. Most shocking of all, Leda stumbles across the discovery that Nina is having an affair with quiet pool assistant Will.
While Leda is content to observe from a distance, she’s reluctantly drawn into the family’s orbit when she helps find lost Elena at the beach one day. Unfortunately, Elena loses her doll as well, and her stubborn loyalty means the entire family must conduct a search. Unbeknownst to the group, Leda is actually responsible for the doll’s disappearance, which serves as a reminder of her childhood doll, later gifted to one of her own children.
Leda’s doll experienced a rather violent end, as it turns out. Struggling to balance the pressures of motherhood with the demands of a career in academia, Leda was frequently short-tempered with her children and in need of solitude. So much so that she later reveals to Nina that she left her children to be raised by their father when they were still quite young, following her own extramarital affair.
Feeling like a failure as a mother, Leda’s grief and guilt drive some of her rather questionable choices in the present. Despite a maternal relationship growing between Leda and Nina, it seems inevitable that the doll conflict will ultimately surface. But how many dramatic & unexpected uses of hatpins will this clash involve?
4/5 Pink Panther Heads
The award nominations are well-earned for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s debut as a director. As sad as I am that we’ll probably see less of her onscreen as her directorial career takes off, I can’t wait for the next film where she’s in the director’s chair.
If you’ve been following news of this film, you may be aware of the ambiguity of the ending. For a refreshing change, I’m not bothered by this at all. However you interpret the end, Leda both creates and endures a great deal of pain, and may or may not have found peace and a way forward.
What works so well about the film is its exploration of motherhood and identity, and the ways two women in particular navigate those. Leda and Nina make very different choices, and there doesn’t seem to be judgment in either approach. If anything, their choices are driven by their own need for survival, a motive rarely granted in our cultural understanding of motherhood. There are many pieces of evidence that suggest Leda and Nina are “unnatural” mothers, but they are merely human.
The moral of the story is, as always, put Olivia Colman in your fucking movie.