Writing and directing “The Lost Daughter” meant tapping into personal experience for Maggie Gyllenhaal.
The filmmaker is on the new cover of W magazine, and in the issue she opens up about getting behind the camera to adapt Elena Ferrante’s novel for the acclaimed film.
“I think people respond to being told the truth, especially about something taboo,” she says of the reaction to the film. “I had never seen so many of these feelings, not just about mothering, but about being a woman, expressed before, and I found that really exciting — and disturbing.”
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Before making the film, Gyllenhaal wrote a letter to Ferrante to ask for the rights to adapt her novel.
“It’s one thing to read these things that we’ve agreed not to talk about in a book,” she says. “It’s disturbing and comforting at the same time, but we’re still alone in our rooms with this secret knowledge. I thought it would be a really radical proposition to put it up on a screen in a communal space, where you might be sitting next to your mother or daughter, and actually hear these things spoken out loud. Then something’s really being shattered. That’s what I had proposed to her in the letter.”
Bringing the book to the screen wasn’t a simple task, as Gyllenhaal explains, “The challenge of the book was very much like breaking a scene down as an actor. You have a text and you’re like, ‘Okay, these are the words, but what is the underlying, more interesting event of the scene, and how can you articulate that cinematically without ever saying it out loud?’”
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The director also talks about film’s history of representing certain generic types of mothers, such as psychotic mothers or all-sacrificing ones.
“I think it’s because when we’re little, our survival depends on our mothers being good and loving and caring for us,” she says. “It’s a sophisticated, grown-up thing to ask people to reconcile being a good mother and a bad mother. I really do believe that women make work, art, film that looks different than men’s — in particular, in the way that we articulate feminine experiences. And if there aren’t very many films being made by women, that’s a whole section of our experience that doesn’t get reflected back at us.”
Gyllenhaal adds, “I don’t see how I could have made this movie accurately and with compassion without being a mother myself.”