A Crushing Responsibility

The Lost Daughter

Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal

Cast: Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard, Jack Farthing, Dagmara Dominiczyk

Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Running time: 2 hours and 1 minute

Taking its inspiration right out of the equally sinister 1990 film The Comfort of Strangers, directed by Paul Schrader, actress turned director Maggie Gyllenhaal directs an entirely unsettling film The Lost Daughter all set on a remote island in Greece, populated by some fascinating characters including some menacing beach goers.

Directors seldom make purely psychological thrillers nowadays which were extremely fashionable in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It is with a stroke of luck that Maggie Gyllenhaal managed to cast the granddaughter of Tippi Hendren, the star of such classic Alfred Hitchcock films such as The Birds and Marnie, Dakota Johnson (The Social Network, Bad Times at the El Royale) alongside Oscar winner Olivia Colman (The Favourite) in The Lost Daughter.

This film is mostly shot in extreme close up, which gives audiences an unsettling intimacy with the characters involved all of whom are slightly off kilter particularly Leda, another stunning performance by Olivia Colman, who plays a lonesome middle age comparative literature professor who travels to Greece to take a break from her daughters back home.

On the exotic and hot Greek island, she has a sinister encounter with the highly strung Nina, a devilishly beautiful performance by Dakota Johnson and Nina’s extended family which are vaguely hinted to be part of some nefarious crime organization.

Leda is an emotionally damaged woman contemplating her own role as a mother, as she often reflects back to her younger self, which are featured in a series of raunchy flashbacks featuring an absolutely superb Jessie Buckley (Doolittle, Misbehaviour) who deserves an Oscar nomination for her role as the younger Leda as she is navigating motherhood and her fractious relationship with her average male partner Joe, played by Jack Farthing. For the younger Leda desires more and yearns for another existence than just being a mother to two very demanding young daughters.

The younger Leda embarks on a passionate affair with a fellow professor, a wonderfully erudite Professor Hardy played by Peter Sarsgaard (An Education, Jackie, Black Mass, Kinsey).

As The Lost Daughter weaves it’s complex narrative between the past and the present, the older Leda must confront her weird emotional impulses and her strange flirtations with the men on the island, particularly Lyle played by Oscar nominee Ed Harris (The Hours, Pollack, The Truman Show, Apollo 13) and the younger beach boy Toni played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen.

Based on the novel by the bestselling author of My Brilliant Friend Elena Ferrante, The Lost Daughter is a brooding mix of menace and desire, a psychologically twisted tale of crushing responsibilities, abandonment and reconnection, held together by two exceptionally good performances by Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley.

Psychological thrillers generally do not have mass appeal, but director Maggie Gyllenhaal does a skilful job of dissecting a complicated issue around maternity and natural responsibility while casually mixes it up with forbidden sexual desire and pervasive fear.

The Lost Daughter gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is remarkable for its haunting unique quality as a cinematic gem.

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