Monday, October 10, 2011

"We would never be sure of the sequence of events."

Film: The Virgin Suicides
Year: 1999
Writer/Director: Sofia Coppola
Starring: James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, Scott Glenn, Danny DeVito, A.J. Cook, Hanna Hall, Leslie Hayman, Chelse Swain.
Running time: 97 min.

Teenage girls. These two words are likely to have people feeling scared. Honestly, most teenage girls do nothing to break out of their largely negative stereotype. Some are overly melodramatic, moody and needlessly melancholic. Others go from one extreme to the next faster than the speed of light, like going from vegetarianism to hating the world and everything in it just like that. It would appear that all they care about are boys, their body image and their social status. Yes, we teenage girls can be very annoying. So I guess that Sofia Coppola's debut feature The Virgin Suicides, which revolves around five teenage sisters, may sound annoying. Luckily, it's not. I, as a teenage girl, found a lot to connect to. I'm not sure about anyone else, but there's plenty to love about Coppola's true masterpiece.

Like Coppola's other films, the story in this one is simple. There are five sisters: Lux (Kirsten Dunst), Mary (A.J. Cook), Cecilia (Hanna Hall), Therese (Leslie Hayman) and Bonnie (Chelse Swain) Lisbon. They live with their strict, religious parents (James Woods and Kathleen Turner). Their lives are changed when Cecilia commits suicide, which makes their parents tighten their hold over their daughters, all the while trying to go on as normal. A group of young boys who live close to them become fascinated with the lives of the Lisbon sisters, and watch them as they become virtually powerless over the way they live their lives. Now, while the story is simple, The Virgin Suicides is a complex tale that is much more upfront about its complexity than Coppola's other films. With Somewhere and Lost in Translation, the complexity is left completely up to the viewer to decide upon, and if the viewer chooses not to search for the complexity, then they are likely to come out feeling empty. The Virgin Suicides, to me, moved a lot faster than Coppola's other films, and had plenty to chew on. Still, this movie was really pretty to look at, just as all of the other films Coppola has made.

While it is upfront about its complexity, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding The Virgin Suicides, which leaves the viewer to draw their own conclusions. Especially that ending. What was it that drove the Lisbon sisters to the edge? Was it the suffocation from their parents, or was it something else? While I was watching the film, I thought I understood perfectly why they did what they did. But now, when I think about it, I feel like I maybe didn't understand their actions completely. Yes, there's plenty of angst to be found in this tale, but there is also a lot of mystery surrounding that angst. I feel like Coppola portrayed the teenage girl perfectly: she didn't use enough angst to reach the unfair stereotype, but she used just enough and shrouded it in mystery. That is what a teenage girl is like. Coppola's attitude towards the teenage girl is summed up right at the very start of the film, when a doctor asks Cecilia why she is so depressed even though she doesn't understand how bad the world gets. Cecilia replies bluntly, "Obviously, Doctor, you have never been a 13-year-old girl." I don't think anybody can ever understand a teenage girl and her mindset, not even people who have been teenage girls themselves. There are many reasons for a teenage girl to be sad, but no-one can pinpoint the exact reason why. It just happens.

The Lisbon sisters are crafted perfectly, in the way that they all work so well as a group. Except for Lux, who is given more attention than the others as she is the one who involves the audience in the story of her and her sisters. Kirsten Dunst, who is a far better actress than people give her credit for (see Melancholia, people), does a brilliant job with her 'cool girl' character, being egged along by heartthrob Trip Fontaine, played by Josh Hartnett. Her sisters, played by A.J. Cook, Chelse Swain, Leslie Hayman and Hanna Hall, were all great discoveries. James Woods and Kathleen Turner were perfect as the parents. Woods was kinda on edge and perhaps a little more loving towards his daughters, while Turner commanded the screen and everyone around her with her deep voice and cool stare. Together, the actors make a superbly mysterious family that I'm sure everyone would stare at as they drove down the street in real life.

The film belongs to Sofia Coppola, though, not just with her realistic writing but also with her pretty direction. There's darkness and contrasting sun-light scattered throughout the film. She also draws inspiration from many 1970's teen films to fit with the time period this movie was set in. Back that up with a carefully selected and totally rocking soundtrack (seriously, she always has the best soundtracks for her films), and this movie is good to go. I consider myself to be a pretty big fan of Coppola and her work, and I'm gonna have to say, this film is by far my favourite of hers. It's haunting, disturbing and thought-provoking. Truly a masterpiece, if I do say so myself.

What I got:


  1. I am such a huge fan of this's possibly my favourite directorial debut ever. You know even though I agree with the whole concept of teenage girls not understanding themselves (universal truth that), but it doesn't really show what they are going through. I love films in which, and this is gonna sound weird, romantic males idolize the females. Virgin Suicides is the epitome of that.

    I was reading the ebook until my hard disk got wiped clean, but the story is a satirical look at the bourgeois suburban families, or so I've been told. While I don't get that directly from the film, I do like the idea. I just think it's such a gorgeous looking film that captures what seems like the perfect teenage and then poof!

    Coppola makes everything look so romantic. Gah...can't wait for whatever she does next. Though I really wish she comes back to her Virgin Suicides roots and presents us with something dark and mysterious like this, behind the tinted lenses and all. With Air playing in the background...which reminds me, I lurve the score. And I don't think a better introductory scene has ever been made in the history films than that of Josh Hartnett as Trip Fontaine. I watched this film originally 'cuz I had such a huge celeb-crush on him. Whatever happened to him?

    Shit I wrote a lot :P But I really love love this film.

  2. Great review. I loved this too, the casting was perfect. I should watch this again and see if I still feel the same way since I haven't seen it since it came out.

  3. This is one of my girlfriend's favorite films, so I saw it a few years ago, but I honestly can't say I remember it all that well, though I've still got the gist of it. However, I've seen much more powerful films about suicide.

  4. I love this film and Sophia's films. I love how she depicts how women/girls can feel isolated and struggle with their position in society but dont happen to be a single parent/domestic violent victim etc. I suppose what I am saying is its an excellent film!

  5. Nikhat - I must read the book, one day. Apparently it was one of those 'books that can't be made into movies'. But good old Sofia Coppola managed to make a brilliant movie.
    Geez, I can't wait to see what Coppola does next! Mainly because I've had a good time sifting through her little filmography. I love her style!
    What ever happened to Josh Hartnett? He hasn't been in anything good for a while!
    I love love love this film too!

    Bonjour Tristesse - The casting was perfect. You should give it another go, and then tell me if anything has changed for you!

    Tyler - Your girlfriend has good taste, haha. I've seen much more powerful films on suicide, too, even though it's a tricky subject for me to see on film.

    mrg - Wow, I had never thought of that, but now I realise that's why the film worked so well! It is an excellent film!

  6. I really love The Virgin Suicides and have seen it a fair few times now, but I definitely can't put it over Lost in Translation and Somewhere (two films, as you probably know, Stevee, I will take to the grave!)

    Glad that you gave it such a glowing review, and you should definitely check out the book!


You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.


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