Upfront confession: I am not a huge Sofia Coppola fan ..
she tends toward the self-consciously artsy and feminist and I find I usually cannot look past this, it interferes with my suspension of disbelief.
I have recently (re)watched her directorial debut “The Virgin Suicides” for the 3rd or 4th time and as flawed as it is, I am sucked in every time.
Main character Lux’s (Kirsten Dunst) sexual awakening is simultaneously heartbreaking and beautiful and I cannot help but identify with her disappointment in love, lust and the sublime. Coppola’s tale of ineffective parents who mean well but who ultimately smother every ounce of passion, freedom and desire in Lux and her sisters just stops me in my tracks; such a simple tragedy with such devastating results.
Lux falls for Trip, (Josh Hartnett) Lux sleeps with Trip and Lux is betrayed by Trip .. it could be a simple, ultimately disposable premise but it is saved by the narrator (a most excellent Giovanni Ribisi who speaks but doesn’t play the character), a neighbourhood boy who loves Lux and her sisters from afar and who is acute enough to recognise that their fate is as inevitable as it is compelling. The fast-forward in time to Trip’s adult memory of Lux and his inability to articulate why he betrayed her underwrites much of the point for me: he simply has no idea why he did what he did .. Yes, the film is made from the perspective of adolescent female desire but it has glorious glimpses into the psyche of the adolescent male as well ..
Like much of Coppola’s later work, there is a touch of the all-too-poetic in “The Virgin Suicides” .. and it could certainly have done with being 20 minutes shorter – but it has moments of utter beauty; none more so than the scene where the sisters mange to persuade their mother to allow them to attend Prom for the first time ever and ELO’s “Strange Magic” plays in the background – mesmerising.
The film becomes ultimately claustrophobic and uncomfortable as the girls incur the wrath of their mother due to Lux’s indiscretions but even this is punctuated with a rather beautiful phone relationship built with the local boys who are fascinated by the girls .. adolescent longing is portrayed as being as overwhelming as we can all remember it to be – something that overshadows everything else and can sometimes come at great cost.
Although this is a story of a whole family coming apart in the 1970’s, for me, it is the story of Lux and her inability to understand, process or accept that love has betrayed her. And, why should she.