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‘The Lost Daughter’ Is A Subversive Thriller Movie

“Once,” writes Elena Ferrante in her 2006 novel The Lost Daughter, “I had a very closeup view of what it means to be in love, the powerful and joyous irresponsibility that it unleashes.” In the span of a sentence, Ferrante — in the voice of heroine Leda Caruso — renders love into something exuberant and also, not paradoxically, reckless and unyielding. It is powerful (a morally neutral term) and encouraging of the irresponsible (not so neutral); it “unleashes” impulses that cannot be contained while also, because of its joy, making the person in the throes of that love hesitant to temper it.

That’s Ferrante. It’s where this mysterious, adamantly ambivalent author focuses the energies of her fiction. An adaptation of her work can muss the finer details of her plots or rearrange things to make them more adaptable to screen, cutting characters, deploying cinematic devices not used on the page.

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter — currently in theaters and set to start streaming on Netflix on Dec. 31 — gets this last part right, which nearly obviates almost any additional compliment, because this is the hardest part. Again, Ferrante, by way of Leda: “The hardest things to talk about are the ones we ourselves can’t understand.” Yet Ferrante understands.

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And so, if her film is any indication, does Gyllenhaal, who, with Colman as Leda, gets that Ferrante feeling churning almost as soon as the film starts, when Leda arrives at the coastal villa that will be her home for the coming summer weeks. But she’s arrived later than expected, and being that she’s a scholar for whom vacation is always a chance at catching up on work, her bags are full of books. They’re heavy — but isn’t baggage always? What this means in the immediate sense is that Lyle (Harris), who looks after these grounds, has not only been waiting around for Leda: Her heavy bags are putting him to work.

Already, in the span of a short scene, the drama’s got an uncomfortable itch to it, with Leda being led up to her apartment and looking around at her rooms with a wandering expression that could be pleasure or disappointment or simply the exhaustion of having to interact with someone in the immediate wake of a long trip — as Lyle, poor Lyle, older and out of breath, expresses curiosity about this woman, his sleeve heavy with uncertainty over what a man like him might mean to a woman like her.