How must we address the degradation and the thoughtlessness of our surroundings?
Girls go missing in Long Island, New York. As opposed to a sense of urgency, their disappearances are marked by an air of inevitability. ‘After all, they work in the sex industry,' murmurs the society at large.
Consequently, Mari Gilbert, played by the wonderful Amy Ryan, embarks on a mission to unravel the whereabouts of her missing daughter, Shannan. Hers is a crusade against the system which turns its back on the marginalized, and revels in the dehumanization of the poor, and unabashedly thrives on patriarchy. Lost Girls serves as an anti-thriller, striving to put a human face on the hunt for the infamous Long Island serial killer.
Lost Girls is the debut feature directorial effort of Liz Garbus, widely revered as a documentary film-maker in American cinema. The film stars Amy Ryan, Thomasin McKenzie, Oona Laurence, and Gabriel Byrne in pivotal roles.
Amy Ryan plays the role of a feisty mother, Mari Gilbert, who surrendered the parental custody of her eldest daughter, Shannan, to the state years ago and blames herself for having, in a sense, abandoned her daughter ever since. Later Shannan, 24 years old, while engaging in the sex trade, disappears from the face of the earth. Law enforcement agents brush aside her disappearance, which compels Mari to set out on a journey to bring her lost girl home, to repay for her lifelong failure to shield her daughter from harm. Lost Girls thus serves as an elegy for Shannan, for lost childhood, and the sheer puzzle that is motherhood.
Director Liz Garbus masterfully sheds light on the prevalence of poverty throughout the film. We observe characters as if caught in a loop, eternally aspiring to crawl out of their wretched realities, imbued with squalor and decay, to no avail. Mothers give up their daughters to the state, stemming from an inability to provide for them. Daughters engage in professions, generally frowned upon all across the board, and are as a consequence blamed for their own disappearances. In life, they are degraded. In death, they are ignored.
Garbus, hence, essentially captures on film a poignant tirade against everyone who dismisses and dares to turn a blind eye to horrible crimes carried out against people, particularly women, living on the margins of society.
More than fear or grief, it is Mari’s anger that resonates with the audience on an emotional level. Now it is no secret that female anger is rarely received well in life or in art. Yet, Garbus fearlessly strips her protagonist down and dwells on the fire that is raging within.
In an emotionally charged scene, Mari’s daughter Sherre, played by Thomasin McKenzie, accuses Mari of having failed to provide a loving home, of having let her anger take over everything. And in a sense, Sherre seems to rant at us.
How must we address the degradation and the thoughtlessness of our surroundings? How do we not let our values erode away?
And Sherre answers: through love and acceptance. We don't smother the fire and not let it consume us. We affirm the brutality around us, honour our lost girls and keep the fire alive.