Sofia Coppola’s debut feature film, The Virgin Suicides, was recently re-released through The Criterion Collection. The 1999 cult classic starring Kristen Dunst was based off the 1993 novel by Jeffrey Eugenides.
In the book and movie, the story is narrated by the collective voice of teenage boys orbiting and observing the lives of the five Lisbon sisters. The Lisbons are an ethereal and sheltered group of girls attempting to navigate adolescence under the suffocating watch of their religious parents.
The plot opens with the youngest sister, thirteen-year-old Cecilia, attempting suicide while clutching a photo of the Virgin Mary. She is discovered in time and taken to the hospital, which leads to one of the most iconic moments in the film:
Doctor: What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.
Cecilia: Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.
Image via Blogspot
Apparently, the premise of the film caused legitimate fear leading up to it’s theatrical release. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Coppola revealed,
Paramount Classics didn’t really know what to do with it… They were afraid that girls were going to commit suicide if they saw it!
However, for anyone who has read the book or seen the film, the effect of the story is quite the opposite. Because it is narrated from an outsider’s perspective— the neighborhood boys admiring the Lisbon sisters from afar, rather than the Lisbon sisters themselves— the plot highlights the utter confusion and heartbreaking sadness that people are often left with when a loved one commits suicide. As it says in the novel:
It didn’t matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only that we had loved them, and that they hadn’t heard us calling, still do not hear us, up here in the tree house… calling them out of those rooms where they went to be alone for all time, alone in suicide, which is deeper than death, and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together.
Featured Image via Parmount Classics