Friday, March 25, 2011

The Virgin Suicides

We knew the girls were really women in disguise- that they understood love, and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.

"Obviously, Doctor, you've never been a 13-year-old girl."

 Sophia Coppola's 1999 film 'The Virgin Suicides' (based on Jeffrey Eugenides' book of the same title) is quite possibly my favorite movie ever. Dark, yes, but also so terribly ethereal and dreamy.
Musical score by the band Air = extra bonus points. 

I first saw this film when I was a senior in high school. I fell in love instantly. Perhaps it was because I was home sick for an entire semester that year and felt so alone, or because I grew up in a very suburban, very homogenized neighborhood in South Orange County, but I felt like Sophia Coppola dove into my head and fished out all the pretty and terrifying things and threw them all into one magnificent film. 
It haunted me. It still does.

"She was the still point of the turning world, man."
 Plot Synopsis: 
Strict parents Ronald and Sara Lisbon keep their five beautiful daughters (Therese, Mary, Bonnie, Lux, and Cecilia) sheltered from the world. When the youngest daughter, Cecilia, commits suicide during a party on her behalf, the neighbors gossip and judge rather than embrace and love the grieving family. In an attempt to let the girls have a normal life, Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon allow the girls to attend the school's Homecoming dance. After the dance, Lux fails to make curfew, and the family becomes even more reclusive. The neighborhood boys finally decide to call the girls, but they still seemed so distant. They were fading away. Ultimately, the girls' miserable house arrest could only be escaped by death.

Narrated in a collective first person voice (one voice for all the neighborhood boys) it focuses on looking back to the past to put together the pieces of the mystery surrounding the girls' deaths- how the boys tried reaching out to the girls, but ultimately how they couldn't save them from themselves or their parents. 
Why I Love It: 
The aesthetic of the film is dreamy- like old Polaroid shots- misty, understated and washed-out like a memory Appropriate, as the film is narrated in the past-tense. I especially love the sun shining through the trees, the golden-hued dream sequences, and the almost dusty quality of nearly every shot inside the house. The costume design was great because it wasn't the typical distractingly bad 1970s- bright clashing colors, lots of orange and tan, etc. It was light and airy. Sundresses, simple floral patterns, and school uniforms.

Brilliantly beautiful, but sometimes almost too painful to watch. If you were uncomfortable even for a second in high school, and I sure hope you were, you'll feel it all over again when watching this film. The awkwardness of the Homecoming dance in this film is comparable to the awkwardness of my senior year prom... the one formal I ever attended... in a "sadly hopeful" pink dress...with a blind date... who never called me after that night. 
I'm cringing right now.

Of course when I read the book a couple years later I loved that too, but the book focuses more on the point of view of the neighborhood boys. The film strays slightly from the book in that the viewer gets an inside look at the family dynamic of the Lisbon house. I loved seeing the inside of that house in the film. The set design was impeccable- the stickers on Cecilia's door, the perfume bottles, the squeaky recliner, the creepy bronzed baby shoes on the entry table, as though the parents couldn't embrace the fact that 
their children were growing up. 

It didn't matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls... but only that we had loved them... and that they hadn't heard us calling... still do not hear us calling them from out of those rooms... where they went to be alone for all time... and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together. 

A beautiful film. A haunting story. Characters you'll never be able to forget.  
Probably because you knew them. Or you were them.
I adore this film, but not everyone will. If you've sugar-coated your high school memories and want to continue thinking back on that time as "the best years of your life," then you won't much care for this film. 
But you'll never forget it.


P.S.- I just found this link to some scanned pages of a behind-the-scenes article from a magazine 
called "The Face." Great photos! Text by Sophia Coppola.


  1. I've never seen this movie before, but I'm very intrigued & want to watch it now!

  2. I haven't seen it either...time to visit the library!

  3. I am putting this on my summer reading list! xo

  4. So, this movie and this book were my favorites in high school. Excellent choice(s).