Since my own child was born, I must often. Pause. from writing and scream at her for interrupting me. Pause. And at my husband for not helping. As I am doing this moment, writing this piece. And how fitting. Because Elena Ferrante’s “The Lost Daughter” is the book I bring up when talking about the way the world disparages “a bad mother.”
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In the book, a mother leaves her two girls for several years when they’re young but we don’t quite hear why. In Maggie Gyllenhaal’s prismatic adaptation, we see the why, we see it in the passion lines across Jessie Buckley’s face when she plays young Leda and then we see the defensible scars of that passion on Olivia Colman, who plays. Pause. Present day Leda — a woman who has never gotten over her life. And why should she? Life is not forgetting over, and Gyllenhaal. Pause. Shows us, specifically, how a woman’s life is uniquely suited to being lived in the present and in the past like a cyclone.
What I love most about the adaptation is what it gifts to lovers of the book, like myself. What in the book remains a bit of a mystery, in the film becomes its own unwinding, like the orange peel snake that Leda’s daughters love to watch her create. And while in the film. Pause. We see what spurred the leaving, it isn’t an excuse or a revelation. It is, rather and explosively, the inner life of a woman that threatens to become her outer life, which is something for which this world is still not. Pause. Ready to see. But Gyllenhaal is ready to show it, as Ferrante has been ready to write it, and this film is an Excelsior into the future.
It is a missive, and it does not say, Go on, Selfish Mothers of the World, leave your children and go make art and money and math and science and dogma instead of orange peel snakes. But rather: It’s OK to feel this way, I have felt this way, too. You are not a bad mother, you are simply. Pause. A mother. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a daughter, and not a husband, to apologize to.
Taddeo is the author of the No. 1 New York Times bestselling nonfiction book “Three Women,” currently being adapted as a TV series for Showtime, and the 2021 novel “Animal.”
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