Combining an achingly beautiful mixture of adolescent awkwardness and tragedy, Sofia Coppola’s feature length directorial debut The Virgin Suicides had me mesmerized. This film has long been on my list of ‘must sees’, and I finally got around to it (thanks Netflix!).
The story takes place in picture perfect suburbia during the 1970’s and opens with the discovery of the attempted suicide of Cecilia Lisbon, the youngest of 5 beautiful, blonde sisters. The girls are watched and obsessed over by a group of their male classmates who are determined to understand them. The girl’s parents are authoritarian and incredibly religious, keeping them under strict control. They become even more watchful after Cecilia finally manages to kill herself during a party thrown in attempts to socialize her and their other daughters. The second youngest daughter, Lux (Kirten Dunst), begins acting out and when she breaks curfew after her and her sisters are granted the rare opportunity to leave the house to attend the homecoming dance, they are all pulled from school and locked in the house. The girls’ tale comes to an end when they complete what appears to be a suicide pact.
This is an impressive debut, Coppola captures the melancholy pain and timeless joy of adolescence perfectly and particularly demonstrates how keen adolescent sensitivities to injustice can be. Kirstin Dunst is fantastic as Lux, playing the young girl as brooding with a budding sexuality and taste for rebellion. While the boys watch her activities and look for signs of suicidal tendencies, they seem to only see Lux smiling and flirting but we are privy to more private moments. The dull, disappointed look on her face after her various sexual encounters, her moments of silence where we see the sadness in her eyes. Dunst captures the woman trying to break free from the shell of a girl. Lux still enacts girlish rituals (sewing boy’s names to her underwear) but we know there is something more, dark and cynical, boiling beneath the surface.
I also loved the look of this film, which I found quite striking; many of the scenes possessed dream like qualities. The Lisbon girls often look ethereal and never quite real. Their behaviour is also portrayed as if they are one. While Lux acts as their symbol of rebellion, they often act as one unit. There are several scenes where the girls seem eerily conjoined, such as when they listen to music played for them over the telephone, or go to the homecoming dance in the same patterned dress.
One interesting aspect of this film is the perspective through which the story unfolds. Although films are typically presented from a male viewpoint, The Virgin Suicides utilizes the male gaze as a vessel. The film is narrated by a future version of one in a group of young boys who observe the Lisbons and bear witness, becoming obsessed with them and their mysteries. We never get to know the boys well, we simply join them in their watching. They can’t understand and try as they might as they sift through the evidence they have gathered over time, they can’t pull together a complete image of the Lisbon girls. They are constantly aware that something is missing that cannot be told in the physical objects and minutia of everyday life.
In short, if you haven’t seen this movie, snap to it!