The Absent Ones: “The Virgin Suicides”

For The Virgin Suicides (1999), Sofia Coppola directed amiably, cleverly and fancifully, and I like her screenwriting (based on a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides) as well. Therein, five young sisters in the Lisbon family of Detroit, during the 1970s, commit suicide. The girls are ever in the thoughts of the teen boys who took them to a party, except for the perplexing Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett), who forsakes the prettiest Lisbon girl, Lux (Kirsten Dunst).

The film is about living with the unfathomable (such as the girls’ suicides). It is about—and it shows us—a free-floating rejection of important things: of life, Trip’s rejection of Lux, Mrs. Lisbon’s rejection of further schooling for her daughters. The characters behave this way because they see it as the only way to behave. There is no real alternative for them. Thus The Virgin Suicides is quietly gloomy, though with odd humor. It is a tenebrous seriocomic examination of human absence. It is limited as a personal film for Miss Coppola—limited in a way her Somewhere is not—but it is personal. . . Writing apropos of Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, critic Ross Douthat indicated that the lady’s movies are more notable when they “feature not just mild dissatisfactions, but the shadow of the guillotine.” The present film does just that, and more than the shadow.

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