The Enduring Message of The Virgin Suicides
Issue 15, Volume 112
A group of young boys peer through a cluster of green foliage and stare at their neighbors, the beautiful Lisbon sisters, whose golden locks and tanned skin shine under the beaming sun of suburban Michigan. Despite their angelic exterior, they melancholically stare into the abyss of their front yard. Noticeably, one sister is missing; the audience is informed at the beginning of the film that the youngest daughter, Cecilia (Hanna R. Hall), has committed suicide, and her sisters are soon to follow. Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut “The Virgin Suicides,” adapted from Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel, reached its 22nd anniversary of release this April and continues to possess an evergrowing fanbase. Told from the perspective of the boys who watch them, the movie recounts the devastating lives of the Lisbon sisters, forever immortalizing them and the story surrounding their deaths.
Coppola creates a hauntingly evocative and dreamy ambiance in the film that perfectly encapsulates the inexplicable atmosphere of the novel. Though the audience never finds out the intimate details of the Lisbon sisters’ lives or their innermost thoughts, they can still discern the delicate yet painful potency of adolescence that is subtly hinted at throughout the movie. From first love to parental pressure, no feeling is left out in the film. Described by the people close to them, the sisters are ghost-like and resemble hypnotizing goddesses at the altar of youth and beauty. The boys rarely interact with them, but are still impacted enough by their presence to think about the sisters decades later. Their retelling of the sisters’ lives and the events leading to their downfalls transform the sisters from unknowable fictional beings to realistic characters with debilitating struggles, further adding to the emotional impact that the ending holds. Throughout the film, the audience sees the sisters’ current states of worry and alarm due to the early reveal of their fate, but once their fate comes to fruition, this dread is replaced with a feeling of emptiness.
The color scheme of the film also adds to the sisters’ elusive nature, as the soft colors of the sisters’ dresses, bedsheets, and room decorations jarringly juxtapose the cool-colored filter that often appears in moments of despair and desolation. While scenes of innocence are muted and hazy, emotional scenes are sharp and dark, the effect created through minimal lighting and claustrophobic spaces. These scenes intermingle to emphasize the sisters’ polarizing lives, from gleaming, happy moments such as their first party to depressing, painful events seconds later. When the sisters attend prom, the colors present are bright but soft, highlighting the carefree and fun atmosphere; however, once the sisters are locked at home and forbidden from attending school, the colors in the scenes become dull and faded, with past joyful events drowning under the sisters’ mundane reality.
In addition to the color palette, the film’s soundtrack also contributes to its dreamy aesthetic. The soundtrack, crafted by the French electronic band “Air,” rouses feelings of teenhood: the uncertainty, the pining, the alienation. From “Playground Love” to “The Word Hurricane,” the girls’ restriction of self-expression is compensated for by the music, which expresses their feelings for them. Between moments of silence, the scores disclose the sisters’ isolation and sorrow. Other hits from the ‘70s establish the eclectic musical overtones of the film as songs from Styx, Heart, and Sloan are listened to and shared with the sisters by the neighborhood boys.
While the film’s popularity can be attributed to its music and cinematography, the relatable portrayal of adolescence is also a major reason for its everlasting popularity. It is easy to relate to aspects of the film, such as the dialogue and certain characters; the audience can’t help but sympathize with the girls and their situation. The film tackles sensitive topics, especially those of mental illness, and depicts how little grievances can fester and grow to take over a person. People of all ages resonate with the themes presented, thus making the film timeless. The message of the film becomes more profound as time passes, and a rewatch never fails to give new meaning to minute actions and lines. Similar to the neighborhood boys, viewers are held at arm’s length from the sisters, catching glimpses of their lives but never quite understanding their feelings or motivations, further adding to the intrigue surrounding the events of the film. The message of “The Virgin Suicides” is especially relevant to younger generations, who are currently experiencing the painful awkwardness of adolescence.
From an outsider’s view, this film might seem like an aesthetic piece with not much more to offer than its dreamy, soft landscape. However, hidden behind layers of sun-kissed colors and rhythmic synths is a rich and meaningful story detailing the deep-rooted problems humans struggle with and how unnoticed they are most of the time. Now more than ever, “The Virgin Suicides” serves as a cautionary tale to take care of yourself and check up on others. Even after 22 years, it remains a film staple in many people’s lives, and its presence will undoubtedly continue to grow in pop culture.