Leda is one of those fabulous older women that many others aspire to be. She’s the kind of woman who lounges on an island beach all day while eating ice cream. She naps, drinks, sings and does whatever she wants when she wants.
But underneath, Leda suffers from anxiety. She gets dizzy spells whenever she remembers what she gave up to get to where she is.
However, she wouldn’t change a thing. So she says.
When Nina comes to the same island as Leda for a family holiday, Leda sees a bit of herself in the young mother.
Nina’s husband is often gone for work. And even though she loves her daughter, the pseudo-single parent lifestyle exhausts her.
It all feels very familiar to Leda. And so the older woman befriends Nina, offering what she sees as comforting words.
But Nina doesn’t truly grasp what Leda is telling her to give up.
Though we hear about many absent parents in this story, it’s also clear that each parent, whether they’re the primary caretaker or parenting from a distance, loves their children.
A couple has sex. (We see the woman’s breasts and naked rear-end.) Another couple has sex with their clothing on, but we see lots of groping. We see a woman’s breasts as she lies in bed, post-coitus. A woman masturbates (though we see nothing crucial). Many couples kiss. A woman jumps into her husband’s arms.
When Leda was younger, she was married but had an affair. When her husband discovered the affair, he begged her not to leave him, but she divorced him anyway (and then didn’t even stay with the other man). Nina also has an affair, and she asks Leda if she can borrow Leda’s apartment for a rendezvous with her lover (which Leda obliges).
We see people in swimming suits on the beach, some of which are quite revealing. The camera focuses on the movements of Leda’s and Nina’s bodies several times throughout the film. A woman talks about the size of her and other women’s breasts. We hear some crude talk about sex. Several women kiss on the lips and cheeks in a platonic manner.
A child takes a bath, and although we don’t see anything below her shoulders, it could still trigger some discomfort given the sensitivities surrounding child exploitation.
A woman is stabbed with a long pin (it’s not lethal, but she does bleed badly). Someone passes out while driving, crashing her vehicle (again, not lethal).
A little girl smacks her mom repeatedly on the head—at first to get her mother’s attention but then because she thinks it’s funny. Her mom physically picks her up (while the girl screams “Get off me!”) and places her in another room before slamming the glass door and causing several panels to shatter.
Leda has dizzy spells throughout the film, and we see her collapse on a beach. A falling pinecone bruises and cuts a woman’s back. A little girl cries after cutting her finger. Another hits a grown woman. Nina says her husband would “cut her throat” if he knew about her affair. A woman threatens to castrate several young men.
We hear the f-word 30 times and the s-word six. We hear the c-word twice, as well as “a–hole,” “c–k,” “b–ch” and “d–n.” Someone makes a crude hand gesture. God’s name is abused seven times, and Christ’s name is abused twice.
People drink throughout the film. A young Leda gets drunk on several occasions. A man smokes.
Leda, like many mothers, loves her children deeply. However, Leda is also incredibly selfish (which she openly admits).
Throughout the film, we see flashbacks to when Leda’s daughters were 5 and 7. A few of these memories show happy times with her girls and husband, Joe. However, the majority of them show an exhausted Leda and absent Joe. In one scene, Joe asks Leda to attend to their crying daughter because he is on an important business call, and Leda snaps that she is “suffocating.”
But despite Joe’s busy work schedule, Leda doesn’t really have an excuse for her selfish actions. Though reassured by her husband that she’s a good mother, she repeatedly ignores her daughters. And when they do get her attention, she snaps at them or tunes them out. At one point she puts one of her girls in time out and nastily says, “I don’t want to see you right now.” While on a business trip, she confesses that she hates talking to her kids on the phone.
When Leda eventually gets an opportunity to attend a series of lectures, she celebrates the absence of her kids. After the event ends (where her work was lauded by her colleagues), Leda tries to find more and more opportunities that will take her out of town and away from her family.
Eventually, [spoiler warning] Leda abandons not just her husband but her daughters as well to pursue her career. Joe, terrified he can’t handle the girls alone, begs her to stay and even says he’ll take their girls to Leda’s mother’s (which Leda takes as a threat since she despises her mom). But she still leaves, and she doesn’t see her girls again for three years, only returning because she missed them (and not because they needed her).
Leda steals a doll from Nina’s daughter. At first, it seems she might have taken the toy as a sort of revenge on Nina’s extended family since they were rude to her. But it’s clear Leda has a strange attachment to the doll, perhaps transferring her feelings of regret at missing parts of her own daughters’ lives.
We hear about many parents who abandoned their spouses and children to pursue individual happiness. This could be triggering for families affected by divorce.
Nina’s family is obnoxious and rude. Several male youths from her family disrupt a movie at the local theater, throwing popcorn and screaming both at the screen and other patrons. Someone also hints that her family is dangerous, and it’s clear they enjoy intimidating Leda.
Nina’s sister-in-law, Callie, is bossy toward Nina and constantly offers unsolicited parenting advice without ever offering to actually help Nina. A young girl wanders off on her own (and gets lost) after being left unattended while her parents argue. This same girl acts out—screaming, crying and refusing to let go of her mother—after misplacing her doll.
Other publications might laud The Lost Daughter for its refusal to shy away from the realities that many moms face—that being a mom is hard.
But honestly, Leda is awful. I’m not commenting on her parenting directly because we only see flashes here and there throughout the film. But we know that even though she loved her daughters, Leda also kind of hated them for eating into her personal time.
I get that sometimes as a mom, you might feel the urge to run away. When the only moments you have to yourself are those precious few you spend in the bathroom (and sometimes not even then), it can make life overwhelming.
But Leda ran away for three years. And what’s more is that she encourages another stressed out mama to do the same.
Add onto that the affairs, the swearing and the film’s brief but surprising violence, and at best, you have a film that tells moms what not to do.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.