Mysterious, haunting and endlessly romantic, The Virgin Suicides, based on the best-selling novel by Jeffrey Eugenide, is an impressive directorial debut from Sofia Coppola.
Set in the 1970’s, the lives of four boys from an upper-class suburb in Michigan are changed forever by their loving obsession with five beautiful sisters: the Lisbon girls. Shrouded with mystery, the short lives of these youthful, blonde haired, vacant blue eyed sisters are told through the hazy memories of the now grown up neighbourhood boys.
The five sisters: Cecilia (age 13), Lux (age 14), Bonnie (age 15), Mary (age 16), and Therese (age 17) all come to a bad end before finishing high school, fascinating the boys and neighbourhood alike. What’s even more fascinating to them is how such beautiful girls came from such parents. The father, a maths teacher at their local high school and the mother, a strict religious housewife, go to neurotic lengths to ‘protect’ their daughters that have tragic consequences.
Cecilia is the first to go. After failing on her first attempt, she is successful on her second. The four boys take Cecilia’s journal and begin to learn about the Lisbon sisters, awakening their love for them. In the wake of the event, the atmosphere surrounding the remaining sisters becomes glum. However Lux, the most exotic and sexual of the sisters, rebels by having sex and dating boys at her school. The four boys subsequently become entranced with the sexual Lux but in turn she becomes enthralled by the high school heartthrob, Trip Fontaine.
After Lux convinces her parents to let her and her sisters go to prom, she bends the rules to spend the night with Trip. Thus, destroying the very little, if any, freedom her and her sisters had. The rest of the Lisbon sisters return home. Trip and Lux spend the night on the football field but she awakes to find Trip nowhere to be seen. Lux never sees him again much to her dismay. Lux returns home in the morning, which causes a lockdown. In a final act of paranoia and over protectiveness, the mother takes all four sisters out of school and doesn’t allow them to leave the house, ultimately becoming prisoners in their own home.
The four boys think of creative ways to communicate with the Lisbon girls, the telephone being the most efficient. They play love songs to the girls; order the same magazines they order, all to immerse themselves in their world. However, the girls are depressed and suffocated. Lux invites the boys over, after planning a road trip for her, the boys and her sisters. The four boys enter the house excited and enchanted. However, they discover Theresa’s limp body hanging in the basement and run out of the house. All of the sisters committed suicide that night, Lux being the last to go. The Lisbon parents relocate, leaving all old family photos and memories of the girls whilst the rest of the neighbourhood continue with their lives ‘like they had seen this all before’ but the boys are still haunted by the girls and love them till this day.
Gentle, tender yet poignant The Virgin Suicides is visually captivating. Flattening out the hues with limited tints, Coppola blends a sumptuous yet wistful colour palette. Faded greys, pastel pinks, dreamy warm sepias and cool powdered blues dominate the screen and set the tone, immersing the audience into the romantically tragic realm of the Lisbon sisters. The visuals in the film are touchingly nostalgic. The girls are permanently seen through the loving gaze of the four boys mystified by them reinforced by soft focus shots and beautifully crafted cross dissolve effects. The subtle colours and attention to detail make for a truly compelling piece. I myself have become somewhat obsessed by the Lisbon sisters, it’s hard not too. The Lisbon sisters are fascinating and deep. The fact Coppola doesn’t allow the boys or the audience to fully get to know the Lisbon girls makes them all the more intriguing. The music in the film is also something to be warranted. Dreamy, slow and romantic it’s sets the tone of the film perfectly.
Overall, The Virgin Suicides for me is a beautiful story, beautiful visually and simply just beautiful. The subtle colours and tones remind me of those in some of Jeff Burton’s photography and are colours I want to create in my images. The attention to details, like the overcrowded window sill filled with perfume bottles, fans and necklaces or Cecilia’s bedroom, strewn drawings on the floor, white cotton pants, religious pictures and figurines, have made me think how you can capture a person’s essence through their belongings. Truly inspirational.
(Tiles shown above were created by myself)