Review: 'Lost Girls' Hauntingly Portrays Injustice Towards Sex Workers
by Zofia Wijaszka
March 18, 2020
Sex worker, prostitute, escort. Never a woman, a sister, or a daughter. The headlines are always the same. The media, as well as law enforcement authorities, lack compassion and a genuine desire for rightful justice for women that provide sexual services. Lost Girls, directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Liz Garbus (making her first narrative feature film after directing numerous documentaries including What Happened Miss Simone? and Bobby Fischer Against the World), returns to the painful, incredibly sad story of Shannan Gilbert and her mother, Mari (portrayed by Amy Ryan). The film revisits a series of unsolved murders and recreate the actions of the Gilbert family in their desperate search for answers and justice.
The incompetence of the local police drives Mari to pursue her own investigation. That, in turn, draws their attention to at least a dozen bodies of sex workers found in areas along the South Shore of Long Island, NY. In this frustrating situation, Mari and her daughters, Sherre (Thomasin McKenzie) and Sarra (Oona Laurence) unite with the families of the victims. The women want to attract the attention of the media, expose the careless inaction of the police, and hopefully find the Long Island Serial Killer. While the matter of injustice is crucial for the plot, the main motive of the film is closure. The mother desperately searches for her daughter and also embraces all of the families who never get to find their daughters or sisters. The reason? Because they were sex workers, always ignored, forever lost. In a way, Mari's desperation to find her daughter might be because she wants to end the pain. There is nothing worse than not knowing.
In addition to the central theme of injustice found in Lost Girls, the topic of motherhood often comes to the surface. While exploring this aspect of the plot, the director is trying to shine a light on the struggles of motherhood. Many of the mothers are often forced to give their children away because they simply cannot afford to feed or clothe them. There is a possibility that Mari's unbelievable determination when it comes to this case was awakened by guilt. Whatever it is, there is no doubt that the woman started a meaningful, crucial conversation that we all should continue now, thanks to the filmmakers. By revisiting awful murders from the past decade, Garbus forces people to consider their views on sex workers and the prejudice that's still prevalent towards them in contemporary society.
Selecting Amy Ryan to star in the lead role was a bullseye choice. The talented actress phenomenally presents Mari Gilbert's determination and her immense strength of spirit. When researching the murders of the Long Island Killer, it made me even more astounded by Amy Ryan's talent. The way she portrays the real Mari, her struggle and determination went beyond all expectations. The remarkable performance closely connects to a sad reality. You can see the panic, rage, and desperation on Ryan's face while she talks to the press or the police. She embodies all the feelings that can be seen on the face of the real-life Mari when the media interviewed her. Thomasin McKenzie is phenomenal, too. The young actress who plays the role of Shannan's sister brilliantly manifests the feeling of uncertainty and how unbelievably frustrating it can be.
Although Lost Girls could've worked even better as a true crime television series, it still serves well as a full-length film. It raises questions that we all should be asking: when will sex workers receive fair treatment? When will media stop dehumanizing their murders, and the police stop belittling their fates? That's why, when it comes to titular lost girls, Garbus decided to flip everything the other way. Instead of analyzing the murderer and their heinous actions, she dedicates the film to the victims and their unfair treatment by the police and media. The director humanizes them and shows us their families, and the lives they once led.
Garbus' Lost Girls refreshingly addresses a topic that's so essential to learn about and, most importantly – understand. Every woman deserves compassion, love, and justice. The belittling of sex workers needs to stop. The film highlights the suffering of a family who lost their sister and their daughter. The director puts them on the exact same level as other families, as it should always be. Thanks to this presentation, average viewers will understand even more clearly and hopefully change their attitudes and prejudice towards sex workers. Lost Girls will remain a compelling manifesto that shouldn't and won't go unnoticed.
Zofia's Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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