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The Virgin Suicides (1999)

A week after pondering on why Turkish films make that much use of attempted suicide scenes, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides.

The story takes place in the 1970s, Detroit. It is from the perspective of a group of boys, mesmerized by the mystery of five sisters with angelic beauty under the roof of strictly religious parents. Their mystery remains even after they die. 

The film is an adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ 1993 novel. Both the novel and the film begin as an emotionless narrator explains the methods the Lisbon sisters used to take their lives. As we know since the beginning that the girls will commit suicide, the important thing in the story becomes what brings them to that point. 

I’m not sure if a proper answer is given to that question within the film. Moreover, it is as if the writer questions how much we know even after we know all the facts. The calm tone of the narration leaves room for the viewer to draw their conclusions. In my opinion, the film shows that they don’t live, so it doesn’t matter if they die.

The film blames the parents as five of their children decided to kill themselves, but the narrators cannot come up with a clear reason why. There probably is something wrong with the parents, they assume, but there is no way to know what happens between the walls.

Partial information is essential in cinema. Sofia Coppola makes use of it by paying a big attention to sound. Sometimes the audience is left out, we can’t hear what we see. Sometimes, we hear things that the characters should have heard but they didn’t. Whether the viewer knows more or less than the character forms the whole structure of the film. For instance, Trip literally caused a girl’s life to end, and we know both sides of the story. They don’t.

If you are familiar with her work, you would notice how Coppola likes to use the high school drama as a platform for her themes. In her 1998 short film Lick the Stars, the film opens an honest window to the adolescent school life as it reveals how the issue of bullying and outcasting start as a game. She shows of with technique and sound in this film, too, with slow-motions and whispers over speech. If interested; here is a link for it.

If you like Coppola’s style and playing with sound and comprehension, definitely see Lost in Translation. If you like The Virgin Suicides, I suggest you to see Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang.

Ergüven takes off from a similar point, where five sisters live under their aunt’s roof with strict rules against them seeing boys. Soon after they are not allowed to leave the house. It might be interesting to see both films to compare how a similar subject is represented within the two cultures. 

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