I feel the need to start out this week’s column with a disclaimer. Suicide is not romantic. Suicide is not Shakespearean. Suicide is not a cool or epic way to let everyone know how you feel about the world. Suicide is a tragedy, and tends to really do a number on those who have lost someone to it. I am saying that to you because outside of Romeo and Juliet, suicide has never been quite as romanticized as it is in The Virgin Suicides.
The catch is, the film is stunning to look at, and has a dream-like quality that I feel most fans of film need to experience, at least once. So really, why haven’t you seen the Virgin Suicides? Oh, the suicides? Well, please take my hand and allow me to help you get past that, so you can experience this haunting dream, atleast once.
First thing it will benefit you to know is that this film is directed by Sofia Coppola, and produced by her Dad, Francis. Sofia Coppola may be well-known as a director now, but when this movie came out, such was not the case. Truth is, she still had to live down her awful turn in The Godfather 3, and I think a big part of this movie not doing well had a great deal to do with that. We hold grudges as an audience, and ruining the Godfather series was something some people had not let go of yet when this film released in 1999. I actually had lost a very good friend to suicide right before this film can out, and can openly admit it took me a year or so to build up the strength to be able to swallow the subject matter at hand, but I was glad I did. So what is it about? Exactly what it’s called.
The Virgin Suicides takes place in Michigan in the late seventies. It is about a family of coming-of-age sisters. The Lisbon sisters, to be exact. What we see here is how adolescence affects people differently, and the counter-productive effect that being over-protected can have. The movie begins with one of the sisters trying to take her life by slashing her wrists (oh look, Remy recommended us another feel-good family film!) but she manages to survive. Unfortunately, the suicide attempt scares the parents, and this, paired up with missing curfew one night causes the parents to put their daughters in a sort of house arrest. As I am sure you can imagine, this only compounds the problem. Ofcourse, the more they are locked down and denied the life any normal young girl would have, the more it sets this tragedy in motion. Sometimes we think we are protecting people we love, but we really are just driving them more insane.
The dynamic that makes this movie the most interesting is, we experience what it is like to be one of the young boys in the neighborhood, who are absolutely enamored by these stunning sisters. We see how they are longed for, and how their subsequent unofficial punishment of them being locked away only somehow adds to their mystique and allure for these boys. Again, yes, it romanticizes suicide, but also shows us how punitive and final the act is. These girls are sought after and wanted by most of the boys in the neighborhood, and the parents only add to that by making their daughters seem so innocent and fragile. Their final acts set in stone that these boys will NEVER forget about them, as long as they live. They may not go so far as to become ghosts, but for how haunted these boys end up being, they as well have.
So what is so bad that it drives these five sisters to this ultimate act? Nothing. Don’t get me wrong, one sister gets abandoned after she loses her virginity on prom night, and the sisters get taken out of school as a form of punishment by an overbearing Father, so in that sense, you can understand that there were issues beneath the surface. But were any of these issues so severe that these girls NEEDED to take their lives? No, and I think that is sort of the point of the story.
These are middle-upper class white girls living in the suburbs. Their bills are payed. They are not being molested. When you think about a group of sisters defiantly taking their own lives, you imagine that the build up to that would be some series of epic failures or the constant endurance of pain, but that is not the point. The irony is, that is not the point with suicide, either. More often than not, your friends and loved ones who take their lives are simply stuck in a moment, and incapable of being able to see beyond that moment. It is a moment of bad judgement that tends to never be erased or forgotten. It also acts a sort of final “screw you” to everyone else. Screw you for not knowing the pain we were in. Screw you for trying to hold us back, and so on, and so on. Okay, little late here, but trailer time:
The first thing you will notice about this movie, and a big factor in me recommending it is the visual style and cinematography of the movie. The movie is stunning to look at, and feels very much like the time and place it was trying to capture. The whole film has a remarkable, ethereal quality to how it looks and feels. Halfway through the film you will note to yourself that this all feels more like a dream than anything else. A slow motion, blurry dream. The kind you wake from and cannot quite piece together what happened, but can tell from the feeling in your soul that it deeply affected you. Yes, THAT is the Virgin Suicides.
Also worth noting is the AMAZING soundtrack by the French electronic duo, AIR. Heck, I don’t even want to tell you how perfect this soundtrack and score is, but would rather share one of the tracks with you so you can understand. The soundtrack SOUNDS like a dream, and the movie looks like one. Heavy themes or not, how can anyone not want to slip inside a dream, even if only for a brief moment?
I know what you are thinking, right now. Remy, you have pretty much gone against your normal grain and you told us about the entire movie. We know how it ends! Yes, you may know how it ends, but there is nothing I told you that the title didn’t give away. Believe it or not, I told you little about the story. Nothing about how the sisters interact. Nothing about how the boys in the neighborhood and the girls interact after they are locked down. Nothing about any of that. I simply told you about a group of sisters who end up taking their lives. I just reiterated what the title already told you, or what anyone familiar with the book already knew.
Finding out the rest is completely up to you.
Oh, and by the way, my site, RemyCarreiro.com just passed two million readers this weekend! That blows my mind more than any of you know. Thank you so much for all the support over the past few years. I genuinely could not have done with were it not for Paul, Nat, and all you guys and gals, so a million times over, THANK YOU! This is still just the first step. Got some big things planned, so stay tuned!