MOVIES THAT DON’T SUCK: Sweet, sweet self-harm in ‘The Virgin Suicides’

I am now wholly convinced that Francis Ford Coppola once summoned a genie and wished not only for filmmaking talent for himself, but also for his children and their  children ad infinitum.

“The Virgin Suicides” is just one of the many successes of his progeny. More specifically, Sofia Coppola.

The movie is a light, airy and bittersweet tale of the five Lisbon girls and their eventual suicide.

The Lisbon girls have plenty of reasons to off themselves, most of which stem from their parents who embrace “that old time religion.” As a result, the  girls have a strict curfew, dress modestly, and never, ever go out with boys.

However, the story of the Lisbon girls is not theirs to tell. Instead, it is told through the eyes of several neighborhood boys, whose stolen glances and recovered artifacts piece together a tale of five girls who are perfect in a way that can only be in a boy’s head.

There is very little character development in terms of who exactly the Lisbon girls were, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is who they were to the boys.

One of the tenets of “The Virgin Suicides” is that our expectations are idealized on such a great scale that reality cannot hope to match them.

After a curfew violation by Lux Lisbon (Kirsten Dunst) following a school dance, the sisters are all but trapped in their house by their parents. In an effort to escape, they order travel catalogues and live vicariously through the models within.

Of course, the boys do the same and soon become involved in an exotic, romantic affair not with the girls themselves, but with the flashbulb imprints of perfection and beauty in their adolescent minds. Even Cecilia (Hannah Hall)—who had killed herself months earlier—is a “bride in Kolkata.”

Coppola maintains her reputation for  solid, fitting soundtracks. While she could have gone with an endless barrage of ’70s hits, she limits the selection to a few songs by ELO, Heart, The Bee Gees and others to keep the film thoroughly grounded in its mid-’70s setting. Instead, Coppola has electronica group Air score the film. The result is a list of ethereal, dreamy tracks that complement the film’s atmosphere of teen fantasy.

As I said, there isn’t any huge character development or interaction throughout the film, so no particular actors stand out.

The exception to this is the pairing of  Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett), a studly and womanizing teenager, and Lux, the Lisbon girl who is the object of his affections.

Hartnett pulls off the swaggering, peaked-in-high-school qualities of his character with aplomb. And Dunst, though for all intents and purposes just a pretty mannequin, does a great job of portraying a confused teenager while still keeping intact that mystique so integral to the film’s message.

Thus Trip and Lux’s relationship perfectly encapsulates the film’s message.

As we learn from Trip in the present day, he didn’t leave Lux the morning after sleeping with her (and violating curfew) because he didn’t love her, because he did.

Instead, he found that after sleeping with her, the relationship was just too real. He alone of all the boys actually got to experience the fantasy that had been building up inside of his head, and he found reality to be wanting.

The unnamed narrator tells us in the beginning of the film that he and his friends still get together to discuss the Lisbon girls every once in a while.

Unlike Trip, their fantasies still remain unrealized in their heads. Those stolen glances, pictures and diaries, all combined with boyish adoration, make for an ideal to which reality could never compare.

However, before they could discover this, the girls they had put on a pedestal vanished, leaving nothing but a perfect memory that would haunt them the rest of their lives.

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