The Lost Daughter Ending Eschews Easy Answers

Why Does Nina Stab Leda?

Nina’s hatpin attack is an externalization of what the film depicts as the suffocating weight of motherhood. Throughout the film, we see how much Nina is struggling, from Leda’s own sympathetic perspective as someone who has gone through it before. They share a kinship of those who share the same kind of lived experience—in this case, motherhood. Mother-to-be Callie (Dagmara Domińczyk), who is eager to become a mother herself but does not yet have the lived experience of motherhood, is quite obviously considered an outsider to this connection, despite the instances of nurturing she performs. From Leda and Nina’s perspective, Callie is choosing nurturing; it is not thrust, all-encompassing, upon her. Or at least it hasn’t been yet.

In the third act, when Nina comes to Leda’s house to get the keys for a future rendezvous with lover Will, she also comes to ask Leda a desperate question: This will pass, right? This weight. This burden. This demand to always be available for nurturing, with never enough help or time or space for anything else. “You’re so young and it doesn’t pass. None of this passes,” Leda tells her, and that’s what drives Nina to stab Leda with the hatpin, a symbol of femininity that Leda associates with her grandmother, into Leda’s stomach. She’s not mad about the doll, not really. She feels betrayed by this person she thought understood her, and by the realization that Leda may be right. That this won’t pass. Not ever. Not with the way society is structured, with different rules and expectations for fathers versus mothers. Not with the way society expects women to martyr themselves on the altar of motherhood, and not to have complicated feelings about the sacrifices that entails.

In this way, Leda’s wound too is driven by the crushing weight of motherhood, and the rage that both Leda and Nina feel because of it. The anger and frustration they feel over not having another option in how to be a mother, other than this all-consuming one. It is the quiet, sustained cruelty of motherhood as it is culturally constructed made tangible in a kind of violence that more people understand and grant weight to.

What Does the Doll Represent in The Lost Daughter?

Dolls are symbols of motherhood. Our society tends to give them to little girls as a way to practice and perform nurturing, just as their mothers are expected to do for them. From an early age, we condition our girls to be mothers. There is nothing inherently wrong with nurturing, of course—quite the opposite. The ability to nurture is hugely important to every society, and can be a beautiful and rewarding act. However, we disproportionately place the burden of nurturing on girls and women, expecting one half of the population to do all of the emotional labor for family, friendships, workplaces, and other kinds of community. When children are small and parents age, women are expected to care for them, and it is expected to come naturally and without complaint, as if giving girls dolls from the time they are small and telling us we should love them has nothing to do with it. As if every girl dreams of the same exact thing and, even if they do, that dream should be at the expense of all other dreams or parts of herself.

With the doll, Leda tries motherhood back on for size. She cleans the doll and dresses it in new clothes. When Nina asks why she took it and then kept it, she can’t explain her fascination with it; she doesn’t understand herself. It’s the same kind of confusion she has around her own identity as mother—not the love she has for her kids, but the relationship she has to the culturally constructed boxes we label as “motherhood” and trap women into. Perhaps, in keeping it away from both Nina and Elena, she is trying to break the cycle of forced nurturing, an act of punishment and mercy at the same time.

Does Leda Die at the End of The Lost Daughter?

The film ends with Leda sitting on the beach after having been woken up by the waves, talking to her two grown daughters on the phone. She laughs through tears as she speaks to them, peeling an orange like she did for her kids when they were young. This time, she is peeling it for herself; they don’t get to have a piece or demand a performance, though she has the option I suppose to offer them the latter.


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