‘The Virgin Suicides’ is a Nostalgic Portrait of Teenage Love and Loss

TW: Suicide, Suicidal ideation

Based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides and written and directed by Sophia Coppola, The Virgin Suicides is told from the perspective of a group of men looking back on their youth. They reflect on a tragedy they have never quite recovered from: the suicides of all five Lisbon sisters, formerly the objects of their love and attention. (JRL: 4.5/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Julia Lasker

The film begins with the catalyst: the youngest Lisbon sister, Cecilia (Hannah Hall), makes a suicide attempt. A young group of boys stare, transfixed, as she’s hurried into an ambulance. Once at the hospital, the perplexed doctor remarks that she’s too young to know how bad life gets. She responds, “Obviously, doctor, you’ve never been a teenage girl.”

Cecilia survives the attempt, so the boys continue to love all five sisters from afar: “Cecilia” who is 13, “Lux” (Kirsten Dunst) who is 14, “Bonnie” (Chelse Swain) who is 15, “Mary” (AJ Cook) who is 16, and “Therese” (Leslie Hayman) who is 17. Finally, they’re invited to the Lisbons’ house for a party, but on that night, Cecilia makes another attempt—and this time succeeds.

Cecilia’s death spreads like poison through the Lisbon family and out into the town. The strict and religious Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon (James Woods and Kathleen Turner) tighten their rein on the girls, cutting them off from the outside world. The boys must try harder than ever to see them, understand them, and connect with them before, unbeknownst to anyone, all four sisters will follow Cecilia’s footsteps. 

Sophia Coppola did a legendary job creating the melancholic feeling of Virgin Suicides. The whole film has a dreamy, nostalgic feel to it that perfectly captures the romanticized way in which the men view their childhood loves. Their past is entirely defined by the mythology of the Lisbons. There is something so sweet and lovely in experiencing the world through this particular lens.

Similarly, it’s unexpectedly wonderful to view the Lisbon sisters through these adolescent male eyes. As the film is from the boys’ perspective, we look at the Lisbon girls the way they do: with nothing but admiration and revelry. Rather than a “male gaze,” we see the girls through what I’ll call a “teen boy gaze:” instead of objectifying and belittling the Lisbons, the boys deify them and are weak to their power. It’s a total reversal of the classic Hollywood portrayal of females. Both Jeffrey Eugenides’ book and Sophia Coppola’s film were made in complete awe of women, and I love that about them. 

The Virgin Suicides is one of those films that manages to balance humor and tragedy perfectly. Coppola’s triumph here is that the film is pensive and hard-hitting so that the grave subject matter has the appropriate weight, but at the same time, it’s funny enough to be enjoyable and not utterly devastating. In my opinion, as far as films go, The Virgin Suicides is just about perfect.

© Julia Lasker (9/16/2020) FF2 Media

Photos: Credit to Edward Lachman

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