The Virgin Suicides was one of those movies I didn’t ‘get’ when I first watched it. And I think not ‘getting’ a film is a valid viewing – there are various reasons why a film may go over our heads or not speak to us at a certain time and on my first viewing that’s what happened with this film. I guess I was about 16 or so myself when I watched the film with a friend and…I just don’t know entirely why I didn’t like it. Why I didn’t connect with it.
Maybe I’d been expecting a different kind of movie, not having read the book then (which I also didn’t enjoy much on first reading), or maybe it just wasn’t the right time for me. But last year or so I knew I needed to watch it again. And I finally got it. It seems so very strange to me that it took becoming an adult (though I don’t feel very ‘grown up’) to understand a movie about teenage girls. I suppose it’s not very different than watching a beloved film from your childhood only to realise you can no longer understand what it was you enjoyed about it.
“We knew that they knew everything about us, and that we couldn’t fathom them at all.”
Of course, it’s fair to say that we mostly see the Lisbon girls as the boys saw them and there is always that distance between the viewer and the sisters. This could be disrupting for some and is possibly why so many people view the film as ‘incomplete’. (The story of the Lisbon girls is meant to remain a mystery to the viewers as it was to the neighbourhood boys who were fascinated with and enamoured of them.) Todd Kennedy, in his article Off With Hollywood’s Head: Sofia Coppola as Feminine Auteur, describes the sisters as characters “whose identities exist only insofar as they are defined as the objects of masculine desire.” He goes on to say that Coppola subverts this objectification when Kirsten Dunst, in the opening title sequence, winks directly into the camera. I definitely agree, at least in part, with Kennedy’s description yet (even when he talks of subverting that notion) I feel it is a bit reductive.
The scene where Mrs Lisbon forces Lux to get rid of her records, and the pure anguish on Lux’s face as she has to part with her beloved records, is a scene that just stuck with me – and then when the boys play records to the girls over the phone. There’s something very poignant about both scenes. The importance of these possessions as part of Lux’s identity, that she is forced to destroy that part of herself, and then the boys playing songs as a way to speak to the girls. I don’t know. (Though the scenes appear the other way around, don’t they? Ha. Oops.)
A lot has been said about the visuals of Coppola’s films (indeed some will say that there is nothing below the surface of her pretty aesthetic, especially in later work, which Todd Kennedy also addressed in his article) but it’s impossible not to say something about the way this film looks. It’s the perfect visual embodiment of nostalgia – dreamy, warm tones! lens flare! soft focus! complemented by the perfect score by Air and carefully selected soundtrack of period tunes – and also looks quite a lot like snapshots from the 1970s. Nostalgia is clearly a big part of this story, and the undercurrent of both horror and fascination that the boys felt, and clearly still feel as men is an interesting counterpoint.
“Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl.”
I think this film is the perfect example that sometimes a first impression of a movie may not always last. That sometimes it’s more to do with the wrong time or place than the wrong film for you. I’m not saying people should revisit every film they’ve ever disliked, and I’m certainly not going to do that, myself but this has proved that I can be more open to reexamining my initial views of a film. There was at least a decade between first viewing the film and not liking it, to revisiting it and falling in love with it and when you consider how I may have changed in that time, it doesn’t seem so unlikely that an opinion can change too. Plus I’ve been more and more drawn to things that deal with ‘girlhood’ of late, perhaps because of the sense of uncertainty that they tend to entail and I’ve been feeling a bit tumultuous and unsettled within myself lately. But that’s a bit more personal that I like to get on here (and illustrates how I am so pants at being anything other than emotionally involved when it comes to talking about films).
“What lingered after them was not life, but the most trivial list of mundane facts: a clock ticking on a wall, a room dim at noon, and the outrageousness of a human being thinking only of herself.”
Part of me is kind of embarrassed to admit I didn’t get this film at first. That it wasn’t a formative part of my teen years as it was for so many (what films were significant to me? Maybe The Hairy Bird, Dick, – both of which also star Kirsten Dunst- Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, Ghost World…if we are just sticking to films that deal with teenage girls) but I’m glad that I’ve come back to it after all these years. I suppose the reason I didn’t connect with this film at first will remain as much as a mystery to me as the Lisbon girls were to the boys in the story.
“She was the still point of the turning world, man.”
I could probably write a lot more about the film but I’m not sure exactly what else to say, just yet. This is just barely coherent as it is. It is almost an overwhelming task when I sit down to right about a film that has affected me like this one eventually did (and, it’s better late than never, don’t they say?)
“So much has been said about the girls over the years. But we have never found an answer. 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.”