The Virgin Suicides
- X gives this film a 4 [out of 5] Scalpel Rating™ -
This film [the impressive directorial debut of Sofia Coppola] opens up to reveal an upper middle class neighborhood in Michigan, during the 1970's. Tree lined streets, with families riding down them in station wagons, are not an uncommon sight here. We are then introduced to the 5 Lisbon sisters [from the youngest, Cecilia, who is 13, to the oldest, Therese, who is 17]. These sisters are beautiful, and almost ghostly in appearance, and we are immediately drawn to them, to find out the mystery of these sisters, and their doomed and tragic fates.
The story is told in flashbacks, from the point of view of 5 neighborhood boys, who come together as adults, to piece together the chain of events, which lead to the demise of the sisters.
We are shown that although these children could want for nothing financially, that they are the products of a rather stiff, religious and strict mother and father.
Within the first few minutes of the film, the youngest daughter, Cecilia, makes a suicide attempt, and is carried out of the house, clutching in her bloody hands, a laminated prayer card, with an image of The Virgin Mary on its front. The image falls to the ground, and the camera pans in on it. "1-800-Ask-Mary" is written on the front of it, in red letters. I found this to be quite significant, as in Catholic Mythology, Mary is referred to as "The Holy Mother", and she herself was a virgin, as were the sisters. She is also referred to, by Catholics, as the "mediator between God and Man", and it seems as though poor Cecilia, was looking to her "Holy Mother" for help and inspiration.
Cecilia is put into therapy, and at the advise of her therapist, her parents agree to let the girls have their first, and only boy-girl party. Within a few minutes, Cecilia looks bored and withdrawn, and asks to be excused. We next hear a scream from her father
who is upstairs. Cecilia has jumped out of the window, and has been impaled on the iron fence in front of the house.
The next scene is quite depressing in its message. We witness a group of neighbors, who have gathered in front of the house, to watch the removal of the fence. "It was just and accident, waiting to happen" quips one of the women, and the others all agree. These people are so much in denial, with their perfect lawns, and debutante parties, that they fail to even notice where the true blame belongs.
This theme of denial is continued throughout the film, and is culminated at the conclusion, where, after the death of her children, Mrs. Lisbon states "None of our daughters ever lacked for any love..... i never understood why" [they did what they did].
After the death of Cecilia, the parents decide to lighten up a bit, and allow the girls to go to a prom, with some local boys, whom the father, who is a teacher at school, knows, and trusts. The girls are happy, but this happiness is short lived, when one of the girls [Lux] doesn't come home from the prom, and instead, stays out all night, with the high school heartthrob, Trip Fontaine, who leaves her alone, in the football field, after they had sex.
An important scene in the film, which had much significance to me, was where the boys arrive to pick up the girls, and we see that the number of the house that the girls live in , has the 7 which has fallen sideways off the house. If you add the four numbers together, you get 12. If you minus the 7 [which some people believe is the number of God] from the 12, you get 5, like the 5 girls, and it is almost as if God has, for some reason now forsaken them, and is no longer "involved" in watching over them, as the film and the lives of the girls, take a serious nosedive from this point on
We next see Trip as an older guy, who is himself recounting the story of the girls, and talking about how he loved Lux, and he cannot understand why he left her like that that night. It was the last time that he ever saw Lux again. We see that Trip has become an alcoholic, and is speaking to us from a Halfway House, where he is being treated for his condition. He too is in denial, not only about what happened to the girls, but about what has happened to himself. The once promising football star, is now nothing more than a loser, who drinks to forget his life and problems.
As punishment for Lux's disobedience, the girls are all pulled out of school, and locked up in the house. As a means of escaping, they send away for travel catalogs, as do the 5 boys, who 'join the girls in their adventures'. They imagine all sorts of scenarios where they travel with the girls, and both the girls and boys are very happy. "Cecilia was not dead..... she was a bride in Calcutta", one of the boys states. I found this to be quite interesting too, as in India, the main religious belief is Reincarnation, and in this way, Cecilia can live on, and have a fuller life, than what she had been allowed within the prison of her home and life.
The narration [which was almost poetic and beautifully spoken by Giovanni Ribisi] continues, where he says that the memories of the girls does not leave them, and has "made them happier with dreams, than with wives". He then says that after the lockup of the girls, that they were "all living in the dead.... becoming shadows", and i found this to be quite poignant and sad.
The boys seek a way to contact the girls, and come up with the idea of calling them on the phone, and playing a series of popular songs from that time period. "Hello it's Me" is the first song, and then "Alone again, Naturally" to "Run to Me", and finally "So Far Away". This was one of the most touching scenes in the movie, where 5 confused boys, reach out to these sisters, who have been abandoned by their friends, their parents, their God. But the parents soon catch onto these phone calls, and disconnect the phone, drawing the girls even further into depression and despair. They now have no one, but themselves.
I found it interesting that the 1970's was chosen for the time period of this film, as that is when the sexual revolution really hit the upper middle class, and parents who held onto their "old ways", were truly separated from their children.
During one of the last scenes in the film, one of the boys finds, in his mailbox, a note which only says "Midnight... wait for our signal", and nothing more, and so, the boys gather in their bedroom next door, and look through a telescope, waiting for the signal. The lights in the Lisbon house flash on and off three times, and they know that this is the sign which they were waiting to receive. They all run over to the house, and Lux is waiting for them in the living room. She asks them to come in for a minute, to wait until her sisters are ready, and then they will all go for a ride in her families station wagon.
The scene shifts to an open road, on a warm sunny day, and the girls and boys are driving down the road, smiling, and enjoying their time together. The scene then quickly cuts to back in the living room of the Lisbon house, where the boys hear a noise in the basement, and go down to investigate. They are shocked to find the body of Bonnie, hanging from the ceiling, as she wears a 1920's wedding dress. They become scared, and run out of the house, almost falling over the body of another sister, who has died, on the floor in the kitchen, of gas poisoning. Lux is found later, in the garage, a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon, who are totally clueless as to why this could have ever happened, decide to move out of the house, and leave most of their things behind, throwing out even the photo albums, which have images of the girls, in happier days. These albums are taken from the trash, by the 5 boys, who study them every day..... each movement and facial expression.... looking for clues which can piece together this tragic mystery for them.
Everyone else seems to forget about what happened quite quickly, returning to their country club luncheons, and bridge parties. Everyone except these 5 boys, who cannot.... will not forget.
This film was reminiscent of an earlier film, "Picnic at Hanging Rock" which chronicles the disappearance of some school girls around the turn of the century, and although in PAHR, we never really find out what happened to these girls, TVS seems somehow more tragic, if only because we DO know what has happened to them, and that there was little that anyone could have done to help them.
All in all, this is a beautiful, hypnotic and tragic film, with a moody and atmospheric soundtrack, that will stick with me, for the rest of my life, and perhaps, even beyond.
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