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September 04, 2018 - Image 32

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4D — Fall 2018
The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com

Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Virgin Suicides’ and the loneliness of girlhood

At the tender age of 28, Sofia
Coppola (“The Beguiled”) wrote
and directed the 1999 drama,
“The Virgin Suicides,” based off
of the 1993 Jeffrey Eugenides
novel of the same name. The
film set Coppola apart from her
legendary father — Francis Ford
Coppola of “Godfather” fame
— and highlighted her dreamy,
unique and definitively brilliant
style. Coppola the younger has
gone on to write and direct
award-winning films such as
“Lost in Translation” (2003),
“Marie Antoinette” (2006) and
“Somewhere” (2010), making her
an auteur in her own right.
For one night and one night
only,
the
Michigan
Theater
screened Coppola’s first film,
“The Virgin Suicides,” as a part
of the nationwide initiative called
Science on Screen, which pairs
films with science speakers. “The
Virgin Suicides” was screened in
conjunction with national youth
speaker Jim Tuman on the teen
suicide epidemic. Tuman spoke
about his own experiences with
suicide, from clients to parents
to fan mail. Tuman reiterated
how the film depicts loneliness as
not necessarily being by oneself,
but a sort of existential solitude
that can be felt even in the most
crowded of places.
“The Virgin Suicides” takes
place in Grosse Pointe, Mich. in
the mid ’70s. The film centers
on the tragically beautiful and

sheltered Lisbon sisters. The five
girls — Therese, Mary, Bonnie,
Lux and Cecilia — are an enigma
to the neighborhood boys. Told
from the boys’ perspective, the
audience looks upon the Lisbon
girls with the obsessive and
voyeuristic, telescope-clad eyes
of hormone-heavy, brace-faced,
adolescent boys. The story starts
the summer when the youngest
sister,
Cecilia
(Hanna
Hall,
“Visible Scars”), slit her wrists in
the bath tub at the age of 13. She
survived her suicide attempt, but
with it came a plethora or rumors,
whispers
and
neighborhood
gossip. The film approaches the
taboo and elicit topic of suicide
with finesse and care. While
the subject matter is bleak and
objectively
tragic,
Coppola
applies a dreamy, hazy sepia
filter to counteract the pain. The
film — at points — is hilarious.
Using Giovanni Ribisi’s (“Sneaky
Pete”) ambiguous narration as
an omnipresent documentarian,
commenting and criticizing the
story from within through the
third-person perspective of the
novel. The film raises questions on
helicopter parenting, fetishizing
tragedy and the loneliness of
girlhood with such expertise and
nuance that it is hard to believe it
was Coppola’s first feature film.
Kirsten
Dunst
(“The
Beguiled”) steals the screen as
the flirtatious and rebellious
Lux Lisbon. The former child
star commands the screen with
her seductive gaze and youthful
vigor, permitting an abundance

of eager eyes to fall in love with
her. Dunst’s Lux personifies the
film’s message of isolation — the
way it feels to be surrounded by
people but still alone. She is the
object of unattainable desire, an
untouchable celebrity drenched
in self-doubt and overcome with
the intoxicating and isolating
feeling of total and complete
solitude.
Trip
Fontaine,
the
epitome of the ’70s high school
sex god, played by a baby-faced
Josh Hartnett (“6 Below: Miracle
on the Mountain”), is infatuated
by Lux’s indifference towards
him. Interestingly, Trip is the only
one we see in the future as the
narrator details the events from
a place far, far away from Grosse
Pointe. Future Trip is no sex god,
rather an institutionalized man-
child, still thinking about the
night he took Lux’s innocence on
an empty football field. Lux and
her sisters left a dark hole in the
psyche of their neighborhood,
turning their lives into more of
a myth than a reality. Coppola
beautifully captures the pains of
girlhood, from boys to tampons
to homecoming dances. What the
audience hears is the narration
of a fan boy, recalling the girls
he never understood, but what
they see is the unequivocal and
crippling solitude of adolescence.
This dissonance is the hallmark
of Coppola’s filmmaking, creating
a dialectic between the internal
and external, the seen and the
unseen.
In addition to marking the
beginning of Coppola’s successful

career, “The Virgin Suicides”
highlights some of the auteur’s
most identifiable and appealing
stylistic
choices.
Coppola’s
photography
background
is
evident in her films from the
concentration on framing and
composition. She clearly takes
her time on the art of the shot,
creating tiny masterpieces within
the larger masterpiece of her
motion pictures. Framing is a
key aspect of the director’s work,
highlighting
the
character’s
feelings and state of mind by
showing, not telling — using the
actor’s expressions and body
language to capture the mood.
The soundtrack plays like a high
school mix tape from the ’70s,

featuring the Bee Gees, Steely
Dan and Boston. The original
score, conveying the ethereal
tone of the film, was composed by
the French duo Air.
On Apr. 24, the Criterion
Collection
will
release
a
digital restoration of the film,
including interviews with the
actors,
a
documentary
from
the director’s mother Eleanor
Coppola, “Making of ‘The Virgin
Suicides’” and the director’s
1998
short
film,
“Lick
the
Star.” The Criterion Collection
beautifully sums up, that: “‘The
Virgin Suicides’ conjures the
ineffable melancholy of teenage
longing and ennui,” adding that
“the film secured a place for

its director in the landscape of
American independent cinema
and has become a coming-of-age
touchstone.”
The fleeting, ghostly beauty of
Coppola’s masterful first foray
into her own coming-of-age as
a filmmaker is iconic in its own
right, paving the way for female
filmmakers
to
make
movies
that matter. Just like the brief,
transitory lives of the Lisbon
girls, Coppola’s film lingers long
after the screen fades to black. It
is a true testament to Coppola’s
talent that the film has remained
so current. Based on the ’70s,
released in the ’90s and revived
in 2018, the film is still relevant as
ever for generations of girls.

BECKY PORTMAN
Senior Arts Editor

PARAMOUNT CLASSICS

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