Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Virgin Suicides

Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, 1993

Film by Sofia Coppola, 1999

Paramount Classics

More impressions from my summer reading/viewing. I was only dimly aware of this story, but enough references to it kept cropping up to force it on my mount TBR. The story is told from a first-person plural narrative- a group of men tell the story of and try to come to grips with the suicides of five sisters in a Michigan suburb, set in the early seventies, when they were teenagers.

The book is terse, the narrator(s) are not particularly eloquent, but meticulous in its description of the suburban life-style and the fantasy world of adolescent males. The sisters exist in a parallel reality, mostly unattainable, imprisoned by well-meaning parents. The film "fleshes out" the story with strong visuals, and in the process creates a considerably different impression. Not better or worse, but the appearance of the girls and boys charges the story with a realistic sexuality which the book somehow fails to project. The book is almost like a dirty joke, the film is a ballet- indeed, one could watch this movie with the sound off and probably get just as much out of it.

Sophia Coppola's films as a director (Somewhere, Marie Antoinette, Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides) feature a certain distance between the characters in them; "Modern" in the sense of lack of resolution. Perhaps that is the type of story which intrigues her. TVS certainly fits that genre. The book's ending felt like it was a bit of a cheat to me, the film's didn't. The girls' vapid languor resonated more on screen; on the page they were quite remote. As a coming of age film, this is hardly Pretty in Pink, or even Heathers. It has been compared to Twin Peaks, but in the film (and the novel) the horror is of the banal, not the perverse. It is an anti-Hollywood ending.

By Professor Batty


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