On the last morning before the lockdown I rushed to the cinema to get my cinema booster, and saw a beautiful film there: The Lost Daughter. During a working holiday on a Greek island, Leda (played superbly by Olivia Coleman) finds a runaway girl. The Greek family is happy, but the child continues to cry, because she has lost her doll. Leda secretly took the doll. She hides her in a kitchen cupboard, buys her clothes, leaves her lying around. Through flashbacks we learn more about Leda’s background; as a young mother she abandoned her own children – family life clashed with her desire for self-development and passion.
Leda with the plastic doll in her arms – I couldn’t get the strong film image out of my head. I realized about five years ago that I had seen a similarly poignant scene with dolls on an American high school. A group of teenage girls were busy with plastic babies during the school break. The girls had to quiet the doll by rocking it. When they stopped, the doll would cry.
The Crying Doll (‘infant stimulator‘) was introduced in 2016 to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies in America. The scene immediately evoked all kinds of conflicting emotions, judgments and questions in me. Why were only girls given such a cry doll, didn’t boys also have to learn to take responsibility? And did this work? One of the girls seemed to enjoy her job, perhaps the prospect of school was less appealing. I did not speak to the girls, I kept guessing about their perspective, but the image did not let go of me.
In his Christmas speech, the king expressed his wish to counter polarization. In the past year, I myself have found myself constantly moving around who is most to blame for my locked-up life during the pandemic (first it was the vulnerable, then the partying youth, later the unvaccinated, and the ongoing culprit: the failing government). Recently, the ‘skiers’, the ‘vacationers’ or the ‘rich rabble’ can be added as amoral bogeymen (see columns by Sheila Sitalsing, Özcan Akyol and Carolina Trujillo, among others).
I was nodding along, but knew: that winter sportsman, that’s me. It is that I am not yet eligible for a third shot, otherwise I would now also perfect my slalom in the Alps. I too am busy to circumvent the rules without circumventing them: not in the Netherlands to the cinema? Then I can go to Belgium! There was protest against the closure of the cinemas, with effect.
They are right in their protest. We need stories to counter polarization – the king said so. Had I not witnessed young Leda’s struggles, the headline version of ‘Middle-aged woman steals child’s doll’ would have left me feeling pitying. have shaken. But I had shared her pain and doubt. That is precisely the power of good stories with strong images and layered characters: the moral right, the choice of sides, the right or wrong, dissolve.
If you close the cultural sector, you turn off the tap of the imagination (yes, you can also put on a DVD, and no, it’s not the same). Stories are pre-eminently the medicine against polarization. Because Leda out The Lost Daughter As a professor of comparative literature, he is also generously sprinkled with clean quotes from world literature. One line from the movie stuck. “Where doubt disappears, tyranny begins.” I’ll write that line on a tile, as a motto for 2022, I thought, as I left the cinema.
Stine Jensen is a philosopher and writer. She writes a column every other week.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 31 December 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of December 31, 2021