Retro Review – The Virgin Suicides

I watched The Virgin Suicides today for the first time in many years, and I was amazed that it was still the film I remembered it to be. Sometimes the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia get in the way of accurate memory, but The Virgin Suicides is a film that benefits from nostalgia, as this is what the film is all about.

The Virgin Suicides, ten years on.

The Virgin Suicides is the first movie by director Sofia Coppola. The film was released in 2000 and features a soundtrack by Air and Heart. The film is the story of four teenage boys and their obsession with the beautiful and elusive Lisbon girls. The five Lisbon girls age from 13 to 17, the film begins with the youngest, Cecelia’s attempted suicide and ends with the deaths of her sisters.

The film is filled with an air of mourning and innocence. Even though the boys never get to be physically close to the girls, they gather artefacts from their lives, beginning with Cecelia’s journal, and try to pierce the mystery that surrounded them. Their obsession with the girls borders on the explicit but never crosses that line (although the girls do cross that line with other boys), and it is this innocent wonder at the mystery of the opposite sex that suffuses the film. The film is also drenched in nostalgia, not only is the narrator remembering these events many years after they happened, but these memories are of a simpler time, when girls first began to fascinate them and the Lisbon girls were almost unaware of the power they held over the boys of the neighbourhood.

Looking back on the film now, there are some actors that were famous at the time, such as James Woods and Kathleen Turner, and others that have become famous since, like Josh Hartnett. The interesting thing about the casting is that none of the actresses who played the Lisbon girls – Leslie Hayman (Therese), AJ Cook (Mary), Hanna Hall (Cecelia) Chelse Swain (Bonnie) – have gone on to do anything that has brought them the attention that Kirsten Dunst (Lux) has received. It is almost as though they have been as overshadowed by Dunst as their characters were by Lux in the film.

Sofia Coppola seems to relish films based around solitude and the elusive nature of human relationships. Just as the boys were watching the girls from the outside, so too are the audience. Instead of telling the story from the girls’ point of view and making the film about the horrors of teen suicide, the film is given an air of longing and loss through its use of one of the boys (we never know who) as the narrator. Coppola carried this theme of solitude and mystery through her next film, Lost in Translation and to a degree, to her last film, Marie Antoinette.

The performances in the film are wonderfully understated, and Dunst as Lux seems at home in a character for the first time in her career. James Woods is another actor worth mentioning, he plays the girl’s father with an air of bemused bewilderment befitting a man who lives in a house with six women.

Ten years after the release of The Virgin Suicides, the film still holds up under scrutiny. At the end of the film the mystery of the Lisbon girls is no closer to being solved, and it is this which lends the film its air of bereavement. The boys grieve the Lisbon girls, not because they died, but because they never got to know them and possess them in the way they wanted to.

Rating: 4/5

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