Collected Works: Film
The Virgin Suicides
directed by Sofia Coppola
A group of young boys leaf excitedly through a phone book. They find the number that they want to call, and place the mouthpiece next to a nearby record player. Greeting the girls on the end of the line, Todd Rundgren booms from the speakers: ‘Hello, it’s me.’ They reciprocate with a track of their own, and the musical exchange continues for some time. The gender-segregated groups are shown on either side of a split screen, keenly absorbing the tracks presented to them.
The Virgin Suicides centres on the constrained lives of the five golden-haired Lisbon sisters. Its action is pieced together by the insatiably curious teenage guys, who gawk from a distance, studying the siblings even in the years after their climactic deaths. We witness them poring over precious relics or ‘souvenirs’ they have found. In one scene, they gather voyeuristically around a diary, drinking in the words and memories. Eagerly entering an unfamiliar world, they tell us: ‘We felt the imprisonment of being a girl.’
The dreamy vision of the Lisbons is conjured up in a series of hyperbolic scenes, each accompanied by Air’s ethereal, spacey score. We see clips of the sisters playing in natural, idyllic settings, fading in and out of sight alongside images of unicorns, toying with sparklers in slow motion, bathed in a reddish, romantic light. The boys’ intrigue is intensified by the Lisbons’ strictly regulated existence. Housebound and under curfew, they live behind a seemingly impenetrable wall. They are withheld, and so all the more compelling.
By exaggerating the ‘us’ and ‘them’ gender divide so common in coming-of-age films, Sofia Coppola exposes and critiques male fantasies of femininity. Soft focus and pastel palettes evoke the hazy, dreamlike bubble that the infatuated adolescents inhabit. We view the girls through a similarly idealised, artificial lens. In its subtle subversions, The Virgin Suicides realises a longstanding yearning for the mythical female, enigmatic and untouchable, while gently and intelligently satirising cinema’s othering gaze.
Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou
More to discover
Question of the day
Boys Don't Cry, directed by Kimberley Peirce. A trans man finds love in nineties Nebraska; amid an air of intolerance and incomprehension, the tenderness teeters on the edge of tragedy. (→)
– John Wadsworth, Silent Frame's Editor-in-Chief (via Patreon →)