Sofia Coppola’s Debut Feature Reveals Her Kaleidoscopic, Incandescent Views on Life

CW: Suicide

It’s one of the most telling scenes of the film. Mr. Lisbon (played by James Woods) sits at his favorite La-Z Boy, flanked by funeral flowers and nursing a Miller beer while watching a football game. His priest is seated behind him, visibly uncomfortable on the sofa. Mr. Lisbon has recently buried his youngest daughter, Cecilia, at the age of 14 to suicide.

The priest benignly cajoles him to open up, but when he’s met with resistance, the priest heads towards the staircase. Suddenly, Mr. Lisbon looks up:

“Father,” he murmurs, but diverts his attention back to the football game.

We melt into the next scene: the remaining Lisbon sisters mourning together. The ambiance of their room softened by plush white carpet, TeenBeat magazines, used lipstick bullets, perfume and body sprays, and tissues blotted by tears. The Hi-Fi plays something simultaneously nostalgic and cutting edge, increasing the sonic volume of their grief.

Roman Catholic iconography melds with an adjacent deck of tarot cards, rosaries are looped over vanity mirrors, Virgin Mary statues are used like paper weights over record sleeves—and in the background is the sound of an errant, honey-voiced pop singer stringing it altogether. This is a movie about the death of innocence.

Largely influenced by Peter Weir’s, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Michael Lehmann’s, Heathers; Coppola’s debut feature film, The Virgin Suicides, mixes magical surrealism with the strange reality of being a teenager in a town you’ve long and desperately outgrown.

It goes without saying, Mr. Lisbon’s yearning grasp at mathematics and logical thinking when faced by the enigmatic women in his family is a very easy tell of his neurotic approach to his home-life. This is only offset by Mrs. Lisbon’s (Kathleen Turner) staunch Catholicism and strict rules towards her daughters.

This film is a hypnotic look into the best parts of adolescence serrated by the all-too real of end of innocence. One could argue the Lisbon sisters operate as demi-goddesses in their cloying Michigan town on the verge of urban decay. The Virgin Suicides never lies about what it is: it’s amber colored vinegar, mistaken for honey. It is as Jeffrey Eugenides wanted it to be seen: how do we reconcile our phantasmagoric images of our adolescence with the strange season of adulthood?

Abby Sheaffer is a Columnist for Cinema in Paradise.

The Virgin Suicides is available to stream on Hulu, with subscription, or is available to rent on Amazon Prime for $2.99.

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