Aneesh Chaganty

Movie #167 The Virgin Suicides

In Uncategorized on March 18, 2011 at 6:44 AM

Movie #167 The Virgin Suicides

(1999, US, d. Sofia Coppola)

One of the strongest feature film debuts in movie history, Sofia Coppola has created more than a series of images in The Virgin Suicides – she created a tangible emotion that doesn’t wimper or betray us throughout the 96 minutes of this film. One of the most tonally consistent films I’ve seen all year, Suicides grabs you by the collar and takes you on an incredible and dizzying journey into the lives of a group of sisters in a suburban home. The time: 1974. The location: Grosse Point, Michigan. The incidents: Their suicides. One of the most interesting stories I’ve seen so far, Coppola (daughter of Francis Ford) extracts more than a disturbing and chilling story out a seemingly cheap story. Capitalizing on the novel’s use of details and mood, she instead paints us a portrait of the most regularly twisted world the characters live in, all the tiny inconsistencies they must deal with, and the invisible obstacles only they can feel. The strangest part is that writing this review right now sends chills down my spine (I often feel this way when describing disturbing events) but while watching the film I was taken by the sheer beauty Coppola was sending my way. Told through the voices of a group of boys who lived through that time (and voiced by Giovani Ribisi as a sort of leader of the “Greek Chorus”), The Virgin Suicides is not a hopeless tale but an illuminating one. For while the film only provides perfunctory reasons as to the suicides (the mother’s hysteria, the father’s inability to connect, the losses of love), it’s easy to forget that the main characters aren’t the Lisbon sisters. The main characters are us or “we” (referring to guys), as Ribisi would dictate during the narration. The movie is as much about the male’s loss of innocence and the male’s confusion as it is about the girls’. In fact, in a world strewn with so much doubt, it is little wonder then the Lisbon girls begin their own death clocks. As Roger Ebert puts it,

In a way, the Lisbon girls and the neighborhood boys never existed, except in their own adolescent imaginations. They were imaginary creatures, waiting for the dream to end through death or adulthood. “Cecilia was the first to go,” the narrator tells us right at the beginning. We see her talking to a psychiatrist after she tries to slash her wrists. “You’re not even old enough to know how hard life gets,” he tells her. “Obviously, doctor,” she says, “you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl.” No, but his profession and every adult life is to some degree a search for the happiness she does not even know she has.

Filled with an air of “bitter poignancy”, The Virgin Suicides is not only an example of Kirsten Dunst’s finest acting work, but also of Coppola’s stunning promise as an auteur free from her father’s shadow.


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