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The Lost Daughter ending explained: What happens to Leda?

Netflix drama The Lost Daughter with Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson leaves us with questions **SPOILERS WITHIN**

Olivia Colman in The Lost Daughter
Published: Wednesday, 5th January 2022 at 9:25 pm

Well, this is certainly a film to create some discussion.

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Netflix released Maggie Gyllenhaal's directorial debut The Lost Daughter on New Year's Eve on its streaming platform.

Adapting the novel of the same name by Italian novelist Elena Ferrante, the plot of the film follows middle-aged professor Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman) as she heads on holiday alone to Greece.

Her peaceful vacation is interrupted when her beach visit is disturbed by a rowdy Italian-American family, among whom is a beautiful but enigmatic young woman named Nina (Dakota Johnson).

A subsequent disturbing incident sees Leda act out in an unpredictable fashion and we soon explore her own personal history as a young woman, played by Jessie Buckley.

Catch the trailer for the new film below.

The psychological drama builds to a surprising conclusion that leaves viewers with a number of questions to ponder.

So, naturally, RadioTimes.com has deciphered the end of The Lost Daughter to examine these quandaries with you.

**Spoiler warning for The Lost Daughter**

The Lost Daughter ending

Olivia Colman's Leda holding Elena's doll in The Lost Daughter

Olivia Colman's Leda holding Elena's doll in The Lost Daughter

Throughout the plot of The Lost Daughter, Leda is drawn to and takes an interest in Nina as a young mother who is struggling with her daughter, Elena.

When Elena briefly went missing on the beach, Leda stole the young girl's beloved doll, causing the child to be distraught for the whole trip in Greece and for Nina's family to furiously search for the doll and even post "missing" posters for it.

Throughout her time with the doll hidden in her apartment, Leda reminisces about her struggling not to be frustrated with her own young daughters Bianca and Martha.

Leda also discovers that Nina is having an affair with the resort assistant Will (Paul Mescal) but keeps this a secret and even agrees to let the pair use her apartment.

It is clear that Nina's husband Toni (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is connected to criminal activity and so Nina fears he would kill her if he discovered her affair.

In a confrontation in Leda's flat, Leda describes herself as an "unnatural mother", admitting that the emotional struggle with being a mother that Nina asked about never goes away.

Leda then confesses to stealing the doll and explains it away as her "playing", prompting Nina to react furiously and stab Leda in her abdomen with the hatpin that Leda bought her earlier.

Dakota Johnson as Nina in the final scenes of The Lost Daughter

Dakota Johnson as Nina in the final scenes of The Lost Daughter

Nina flees the apartment while Leda notices the blood coming from the wound.

That night, Leda gathers her things and flees the resort with belongings.

However, she stops her car and wanders onto the beach before collapsing.

She awakens the next morning to the crashing waves and gets a phone call from her two daughters who are relieved she is alive and how they feared she was dead.

The call is intercut with shots of Leda touching her wound before she goes on to say: "No, I'm alive actually."

She is then shown to have an orange with her which she peels in the same snake-like motions he used to do when Bianca and Martha were little.

"Go on," she replies to them as they begin to speak down the phone to her, "tell me all about it"

We then flashback a final time to Leda peeling the orange with her daughters as they whisper: "Peel it like a snake, don't let it break."

Over the credits, we see shots of Leda sitting on the beach peeling the orange while on the phone.

Does Leda die in the final scene of The Lost Daughter?

Olivia Colman as Leda Caruso in The Lost Daughter

Did Leda Caruso die at the end of The Lost Daughter?

Despite the ambiguous and dreamlike nature of the final scene, we do not have it confirmed that Leda Caruso dies at the end of The Lost Daughter.

The final scene is portrayed in a slightly dreamlike way, intercut with shots from the past, Leda's bleeding wound, the curious appearance of the orange for her to peel.

One would be forgiven for wondering if Leda was already dead or dying by the way the scene is portrayed and Colman's bemused performance of her dialogue about being "alive".

However, Leda is seen visibly to be alive at the conclusion of the film, having her bittersweet discussion with her daughters who she so struggled to be maternal towards.

The script (via Deadline) adds little clue to the final meaning, stating: "As she listens, Leda puts her fingers to her wound. She looks at the blood it leaves on her fingers.

"She opens her hand and AN ORANGE magically appears in her palm.

"With bloody fingers, listening to her daughters talk, she sits in the sand and peels the orange. In one long piece, like a snake."

It really appears up to audience interpretation but we do not have it confirmed that Leda dies.

What happens at the end of the book The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante?

Dakota Johnson as Nina and Olivia Colman as Leda in The Lost Daughter

Dakota Johnson as Nina and Olivia Colman as Leda in The Lost Daughter

The plot of the novel by Elena Ferrante ends in a similar fashion to the film with the confrontation between Leda and Nina, the confession and Nina reacting furiously by stabbing Leda with the hatpin.

The book, which is written in the first person from Leda's point of view, sees Leda realise what Nina had done and notice the spot of blood on her side.

Leda waits for something to happen but she notes that the wound darkened and clotted and the pain faded.

She then begins packing her things and readied herself to leave the apartment when she gets a call from her daughter Marta who speaks to her in unison with her sister Bianca.

The daughters say: "Mama, what are you doing, why haven't you called? Won't you at least let us know if you're alive or dead?"

Leda is moved and responds: "I'm dead, but I'm fine."

This is an interesting adaptational choice from Maggie Gyllenhaal who penned the screenplay for the film - as Leda states she is "dead" in the novel but "alive" in the film.

It appears Leda is more content with her relationship with her daughters but the final sentence of the novel once again adds an air of ambiguity - or at least melancholy - to Leda's survival.

The novel begins in the non-linear structure that the film does with Leda falling down on the beach after having crashed her car.

However, she is taken to hospital and joined by her friends and doctors and appears to be fine - albeit not keen to explain just what had happened to her.

Leda had veered into a guardrail and her only serious wound was the legion on her left side - which we later learn was from when Nina had stabbed her with the hairpin.

So, Nina survives but is reunited with her loved ones - but with secrets remaining.

Speaking to The New York Times about adapting the novel, Maggie Gyllenhaal said: "I found that adapting actually used a similar muscle to the one that I have used as an actress in terms of taking a text, whether it’s excellent or has got problems, and figuring out the essence of this piece of material.

There are some things that are literal, but they’re so strange. Like the line, 'I’m an unnatural mother.' That’s just 100 percent Ferrante, a straight lift, but a lot of people told me, take that line out.

"I also really did do what [Ferrante permitted] and changed many, many things but I really believe that the script and the film are really in conversation with the book."

To purchase the novel The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante, you can see the Amazon link here.

Why did Leda steal the doll? 

Olivia Colman as Leda holding the doll in The Lost Daughter

Olivia Colman as Leda holding the doll in The Lost Daughter

We don't get a definitive answer as to why Leda stole the doll belonging to Nina's young daughter, Elena.

However, there are a number of reasons that appear to have contributed to her impulsive transgression.

Seeing Nina with Elena stirred memories of Leda's own experiences as a mother, her struggling marriage to her daughters' father Joe (Jack Farthing, her own adulterous affair with a professor (Peter Sarsgaard), and her subsequent abandonment of her children.

In addition to this, Leda recalls a time when wilful daughter Bianca briefly went missing as a child and also recall her own doll similar to Elena's.

Leda appears desperate to reconnect with her own past, including her difficult relationship with motherhood through the doll.

What does the orange peel symbolise? 

An orange peel

Leda peels an orange in The Lost Daughter

The peeling of the orange in a snake-like fashion was a treat that Leda did for her two daughters.

It is an example of a warm memory of motherhood for Leda who always struggled with the conventional idea of what it means to be maternal.

We end with the imagery of a younger Leda peeling an orange with her young daughters, a hopeful and happy image of her time as a mother.

Does Nina's affair with Will get exposed?

Dakota Johnson as Nina wearing a hat in The Lost Daughter

Does Nina's adulterous affair with Will get exposed?

We never get any resolution to Nina's affair with resort assistant Will and we never know if her husband Toni finds out.

It is clear that Will is a distraction from her struggles with motherhood but also from her strained relations with her husband and his criminal family.

The last we see of Nina is when she furiously departs after stabbing Leda.

Speaking to Vogue about Nina, actress Dakota Johnson said: "Nina is drowning in herself and when she meets Leda, she thinks, ‘Is there something more for me? Could my mind be less hungry? Could I be satiated?’

"The most heartbreaking thing is that she probably won’t ever be and that’s true of so many women."

The Lost Daughter is available now on Netflix.

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