Cult Column: The Virgin Suicides

To her credit, Sophia Coppola has proven herself a talented artist, more than the offspring of an illustrious director. But it is difficult to identify any redeeming feature in her breakthrough directorial piece The Virgin Suicides.

There’s the motif of Rock ‘n’ Roll music, deftly interwoven throughout. Songs such as ‘Crazy on You’ (the backdrop to a transgressive make-out session) portend the invasion of the suburban realm by progressive culture. Ascetic Mrs Lisbon forces her daughter Lux to burn her beloved Rock records, embodying the entrenched stubbornness of traditional American values and foreboding the film’s tragic ending.

But that is about the extent of the positive. I was personally offended by this noxiously-misconceived depiction of mental health. No insight is given into the causation of Cecelia’s suicidal disposition; Danny Devito’s performance as a counsellor, employed for only one session, is unrealistic – his proposed remedy for Cecelia is myopic and ineffectual; and the rapid psychological debilitation of the remaining sisters is not elaborated on.

The film deprives real-life mental health sufferers of the dignity to which they are entitled; the severity of suicide is ignominiously downplayed. In response to their daughters’ suicide, the parents’ acting – Mr Lisbon’s unrealistic composure and his wife’s over-the-top ululation– is unforgivably poor. And the film is fraught with such poor performances: Lux’s reaction to her records being incinerated; a television interviewee mourning the accidental death of her grandmother.

Woefully, the film regards and conveys mental health issues as intractable and mysterious. We’re left begging to know about the impact of the girls’ circumstance on their psychological condition. Virgin Suicides contributes to popular misconceptions about such conditions as depression, making us ill-equipped as a society to deal with them.

If that weren’t bad enough, subtle sexism pervades the film. The neighbourhood boys propound female stereotypes, such as the acute appreciation of beauty instinctive to all women. That women are imprisoned is no overstatement, but the boys condescendingly see themselves as the sisters’ rescuers-in-shining-armour. The antiquated feminine ideal of purity is also evoked; mawkishly creepy high-school heartthrob Trip Fontaine’s interest piques as Lux does not reciprocate. Herein we find the patriarchal notion, fuelled by a possessive jealousy, that the ideal woman is chaste, unattainable, and untouched by other men.

It’s impossible to emphasise how much we need to rid ourselves of destructive fallacies about mental health and persistent 19th century views on women. The Virgin Suicides is a stubborn obstacle in the way of such progress.

Image: Siren-Com, via Wikipedia

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  1. John Beckmann
    Oct 21, 2017 - 12:16 PM

    First off, the mysteriousness of the girl’s mental states is the whole point of the film! The film is narrated and from the viewpoint of the boys who are trying to piece together these girls lives from the imperfect information they have. In the end, no matter how many people they interview or possessions they collect, they’ll never fully know what the girls went through. As far as the boys and Trip exhibiting sexism in the film, yeah they’re teenage American boys in the 1970’s! What do you expect? It is also integral to the whole story. The boys extreme fascination and fantasy of the girls is what inspires them to try to figure out their lives. Also, should there not be sexist characters in films because sexism is wrong? Should there also be no murder in films because murder is wrong? Overall, this entire criticism just comes off completely bombastic and I think you need to watch the movie again.

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