Many boys, in our young adolescence, encounter a girl who seems to posses somewhat of a mystical quality about her. We create a fairytale in our heads and play it out over and over again. For some of us, that magic wastes away as we get older and see that girl for who she really is–a person–and we realize that our younger selves had an immature concept of love, if we can even call it that. But what would happen if that girl were trapped in that time period in our lives and we never saw them again because they never grew up? Would our perception of them mature with us? Or would our ideals also become frozen forever?
The Virgin Suicides is narrated by a male voice looking back 25 years at a group of sheltered girls who lived in his Michigan suburb in the mid-’70s. Speaking for himself as well as the group of neighborhood boys, he tells us, in a fairly overbearing use of voiceover, how they became obsessed with these girls due to their elusive existence and unattainable mystery. Their interest becomes even more heightened following the suicide of the youngest, Cecilia (Hanna R. Hall). We know of the tragedy because of the title of the film and because our narrator tells us early on that these girls will all eventually take their own lives.
To say that the girls were driven to their deaths by their strict parents would be unfair, though there is a side of writer-director Sofia Coppola that wishes us to make inferences. But the reality is, most parents’ have some set of rules or restrictions that we deem unreasonable when we’re young when we only care about our own social life. Yet we’re shown a very religious mother (Kathleen Turner) and father (James Woods) who keep their daughters pretty sheltered out of fear of outside influences leading them down the wrong paths. However, their methods aren’t completely ridiculous. They do show signs of compromise in letting the girls have a party at their house, as well as going with unknown boys to a homecoming dance unsupervised. They want their daughters to be happy, but still attempt to instill morals and values amidst the ever-changing world circa 1975.
Not that any consequences of certain extremes couldn’t happen, but those correctly practicing their faith would have a greater sense of understanding to their morals and a greater likelihood of properly passing on those values to their children. We get somewhat of a pejorative depiction and an unrealistically one-sided view on spiritual-driven chastity.
The film is as much about the girls as it is about the boys across the street enthralled by their enigma. Although, in hindsight, this dynamic ends up going unrealized. The overall story is merely bookended by the boys’ obsession rather than it being a common thread throughout.
Our narrator spends the whole movie helping us understand this fascination and their attempt to figure out the mystery of the girls’ fatal decision, but ultimately the suicides remain a mystery to them, and the audience as well, with no attempt by the narrator to give his own opinion in the end. I wouldn’t mind an air of uncertainty if at least we knew our narrator’s take.
Coppola’s vision may be a tad shaky, but there’s a unique style to her filmmaking that almost has us forgetting what time period this movie was made in–even if that might be a fortunate consequence of the movie’s low budget.
The Virgin Suicides isn’t about the girls and why they killed themselves necessarily, so much as it’s about the concept of nostalgia. In this case, the purest form of nostalgia. Ideals trapped in time, turning into nostalgia because the wonder behind them never got stale, or was never allowed to be. The boys never got that magic spoiled because the girls died before any magic was lost. Their search for the truth was more fun than the truth itself, and the fact that it can now never be uncovered makes the mystery even safer to chase since it’s likely permanent. A sad reality, really, that it takes the demise of something or someone to cement that mystery.