The Virgin Suicides (2000) - Sofia Coppola's fantastic directorial debut

Sofia Coppola

  • Born:  1971
  • Rank:  #57
  • Score:  580.00
  • Awards:  NYFC, BSFC
  • Nominations:  Oscar, DGA, BAFTA, BFCA, Golden Globe
  • Feature Films:  4
  • Best:  Lost in Translation
  • Worst:  Marie Antoinette

Films  (in ranked order):

  1. Lost in Translation
  2. The Virgin Suicides
  3. Somewhere
  4. Marie Antoinette

Top 10 Best Director Finishes  (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 2000  –  5th  –  The Virgin Suicides
  • 2003  –  3rd  –  Lost in Translation

In the opening shots of The Virgin Suicides, two things quickly became apparent.  The first was that Sofia Coppola wasn’t going to be do any more little acting jobs because she was a truly talented writer and director who had found her place in film.  The second was that, even though she was the daughter of one of the most gifted directors of all-time, her style was entirely her own – only the name was the same.  Then came Lost in Translation, the film that finally earned an American female a place among the Oscar nominees – an amazing film that brought Coppola an Oscar for screenwriting (in a sense, appropriate, since her father also won his first Oscar for writing).  This would place a lot of expectations on her next film and Marie Antoinette wasn’t ever going to be able to measure up.  It was a solid film which was worn down by the weight of expectations.  It would be another four years before she would finally make a fourth film, and Somewhere, which divided critics, showed once again her fascination with those who have emotionally withdrawn.  The critics claimed that nothing much happened while the film’s supporters (including me), say that this is exactly what the film is about – that divide when everything is happening and you think that nothing is happening.  Either way, she had finally made enough films to make the list, and if her second two weren’t nearly on the level as her first two, it easily catapulted her up into the middle of the 2.0 list.

The Virgin Suicides  –  #7 film of 2000

In 2000, when Sofia Coppola made her debut film, it probably would have surprised people that it would take her 10 years to make three more films (though, ironic timing here, not as much as it would surprise those who wouldn’t think it would take Jeffrey Eugenides, whose debut novel the film is based upon, 11 years to write two more novels – the second one, The Marriage Plot, just debuting this past Tuesday).  But it must also have been a surprise at how confident and assured she was as a first-time feature director.  Yes, she had grown up in the household of Oscar winners (her grandfather won when she was a child and her father won five, the first just two months before she was born).  But she was not yet thirty, she had taken a major role in her father’s The Godfather Part III and been absolutely savaged by the critics.  To have a debut film that was so well-written, so well-directed, in every way the work of a mature and talented director, it just left people waiting for the next step.  The next step was the amazing Lost in Translation, of course, but the only flaw in that film is that it stopped people from talking about The Virgin Suicides.

In a short story, I once wrote that the true capacity for happiness dies around twelve or thirteen.  At that point you start asking questions and you begin to understand two things.  The first is that not all questions have answers.  The second is that sometimes there are answers that you don’t want to hear.  That’s what we get in those teenage years – learning that sometimes you can find happiness around the questions and that sometimes you can’t.  The ones who struggle with that concept the most are those that don’t make it.

This film gives us the five Lisbon girls, the ones who never make it past the questions.  We can look at the stern parents – the father unable to think of life outside his mathematical equations and his plants, and the mother so afraid of her daughters and the fact that adulthood and sexuality is coming for them whether she wants it to or not that she throws every roadblock in the way.  Or we can look at the girls themselves, at the youngest one, Cecelia, and how she explains to the doctor that he doesn’t know what it is like to be a 13 year old girl.  And we can try to find the answers to the questions they asked that lead them down this road to darkness and oblivion.

But the answers, hell, the questions themselves, aren’t really what this film is about.  This film is about those left behind, those young men who did love those girls, who continue to love those girls beyond death and time and any meaning.  Those are the ones who search for those answers and it is in their search that we find the film itself.  We see amazing shots through the trees, a moving crane shot down the street, the bitter, cold loneliness of the football field at dawn, the art direction of the suburban upper class of the seventies, the horrible fashions and the fantastic sports cars.  And most of all we see the girls, especially the ethereal Lux, played by Kirsten Dunst so perfectly.

And we see those boys standing together on the grass after another meaningless party, one in which they’ve watched their own search for the answers, and even the questions, mocked by the adults who are pathetically striving for the only happiness they are able to find.  It is a shot of great beauty, talent and meaning and anyone who has been that boy, who loved that girl who is now gone, whether through death or just time, understands what it is like to be there and stare across that endless void that separates their universe from your own.  For Coppola, raised in the unique environment that produced her, to understand so well that she could give us this magnificent shot was all the evidence we needed to know that she had found her true calling in film.

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