The Lost Daughter

People who read voraciously will tell you the book is always better than the movie. 

I take it one step further by requiring my children to read the book before they watch the film adaptation, a rule I usually follow myself.  But when I watched The Lost Daughter on Netflix, I did not realize the story came from a novel of the same name by Italian author, Elena Ferrante.  Fascinated, if slightly unsettled by the film, I did some research after viewing it and obtained the book. 

The movie touches on nearly every single note of the book, something that cannot be said for most film adaptations.  Even nuanced subtleties are included.  It is a book lover’s dream. 

Both are a conflicted mother’s nightmare. 

The main character, Leda, is a conflicted mother. 

With the main line of the plot centering on Leda’s solo beach holiday, one might assume that’s all behind her – but as Ferrante so deftly proves, the mother/child bond is one that pulls a thread through lives, years, generations. 

Leda’s holiday at the shore is a celebration; not of her daughters’ departure, but of her independence, of the absence of obligation.  Yes, she brings a bag of books to the beach to prepare for the upcoming year’s classes, but she “carried a wicker chair out to the terrace, and sat for a while to watch the evening descend on the sea” as her first act upon arrival, something she never would have been able to do when “for years every vacation had revolved around the two children.”

Leda enjoys one supremely relaxing day at the beach – before her past, in the form of a large Neapolitan clan, blocks her path to the water.  The group, both large in size and attitude, whose continual return to this same spot inspires a sense of ownership in them, reminds Leda of the extended family of her childhood from which she fled.  She remembers her mother’s abhorrence and yet ultimate adoption of their crude and violent ways.  The interactions of a young mother and daughter make Leda reassess the bonds she had with her own daughters. 

In an expert weaving of past and present, one mother/daughter pairing to another, Ferrante explores how polarity and magnetism can exist at the same time within maternal bonds: motherhood vs. selfhood, generational transference and connection, love vs. duty. 

A bedraggled doll covered in beach sand becomes a character as real and large as any of the humans.  She is the love Leda needs from her childhood, she is the care Leda aches to give her own children freely, she is the unquestioning fragility of the mother/child bond. 

Conflicted mothers want to know that walking away, that tending to their own needs and desires, though viewed as monstrous by the outside world, is worth the internal validation.  Leda’s mother threatened to do so many times (“You will never ever ever see me again”) yet never followed through.  Leda made a point to never utter those words, but actually did walk away.  Now the young mother Nina laments how “your heart shatters: you can’t bear staying together with yourself and you have certain thoughts you can’t say.”  She believes it will pass, comforted by the fact that Leda returned.  Yet, Leda answers, “With my mother it became a sort of sickness.  But that was another time.  Today you can live perfectly well even if it doesn’t pass.”  Ultimately, Leda cannot offer young mothers a satisfying response.  

Leda herself hasn’t found a solution.  Years after her own disjointed upbringing, a strangled happiness in motherhood and a thwarted success in academia – she finds herself drawn to the very things from which she was running.  Closing herself off ultimately opens her to the dangers of these present-day manifestations. 

Both the novel and film treatments of The Lost Daughter come across as haunting and unnerving.  There is an undercurrent of threat throughout: of loved ones leaving, of missed opportunities, of loss and bodily harm.  Sometimes the threat isn’t even apparent; there is just the feeling of dread.  There is a meditative melancholy to this story, much in keeping with the heavy machinations of life and communion Leda carries with her. 

At times, this story is even esoteric.  Given the central question at its heart – can a woman attain selfhood and motherhood in the same lifetime – this is the perfect paradigm.   It has haunted three generations in just this story and countless women throughout the world.  There is no clear answer.  There are many iterations of the lost daughter. 

Netflix is Depressing

Netflix is making me depressed.

Ok, I can’t in good conscience blame all of my troubles on on-demand television services, but I can make a good case for their use attributing to my condition.

I’ll be the first to admit that I find cable television seasons highly annoying. You wait an inordinate amount of time for a show to start up again, only to watch it whisk by in five to six weeks. Each episode ends on a ridiculously frustrating cliffhanger, leaving you lunging at the TV for more, an urge you must tamp down for the following week. This manipulative cycle of desire and gratification has got us viewers trapped hook, line, and sinker.

Enter the world of on-demand services.

They don’t solve the week’s wait between new episodes, but glom onto a show just past its prime, and all the episodes are there for the taking. Want to see what happens next? No problem, my addictive friend. Binge away.

Such binges lead to a glorious few days or a week, depending on how long you stretch it out, but leave you – at the end of it – in the ubiquitous showhole. My kids don’t get that commercial. I find it eerily accurate. The fact that I recently learned to knit adds to the effect.

 

But choose a show so popular, there are scads of episodes, and the showhole never becomes an issue. I’ve recently fallen under the spell of Criminal Minds. I never watched it when it initially aired on network television. I missed that highly popular boat. I discovered it on one of the four over-the-air stations we were left with once we cancelled cable – the only one not airing paid programming or home shopping. However, the marathons I loved so much on Mondays and Tuesdays gave way to other crime shows I enjoyed much less the rest of the week. I searched Hulu to no avail. When we added Netflix a few months later, I was so excited to see all seasons represented. I could watch whenever I wanted and start from square one.

I would settle onto the couch with my pregnant morning snack or lunch or under the afghan when I needed a rest, my BAU friends entertaining me while I vegged. I could rationalize sitting there vegetating as long as the episode continued. Just until this episode finishes, just until they find the unsub, just until they solve the mystery.

However, when motivation is not high to begin with, and I haven’t been sleeping through the night, and I’m growing a child, and whatever low-level mental health issue is ailing me come together and Netflix plays their shows on a constant loop, it’s easy to stay on the couch for the next episode and the next and the next . . .

About half way through the third episode, the show isn’t even that scintillating anymore. It’s the construct and the comfort that leave me there, rooted to the couch, all semblance of productivity drowning in the abyss of my mind and pool of my guilt.

There is definitely a pleasure seeking/reward system at work with any media viewing. We seek solace, relaxation, a treat in our favorite show. But just as that huge bowl of ice cream eventually empties out, so our show ends, leaving us wanting and needing more to fill that reward center. With the overzealous access of on-demand services, it can become very easy to remove oneself from time, place, social connection in search of an elusive endgame – whether it’s escape, entertainment, distraction, avoidance, or happiness.

Holding Netflix responsible for my lack of mojo and self-control is about as ridiculous as suing McDonald’s for getting fat. I need to set up fail-safes and proactive measures to keep me from swirling ever closer to the rim of the showhole. But it’s so easy to drift along on the gentle current of complacency, detachedness . . .

At least I only have ten more seasons to go.

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