Seriously, fuck this persistent trope of glorifying and preserving the innocent, pretty girl victim, and especially fuck the cultural obsession with “virginity.”
Virginity is a social construct. It is impossible to define without making it glaringly obvious that its perimeters are patriarchal in nature. Penis in vagina only, even “just the tip,” represents the loss of virginity. Absurd. What about LGBTQ? For starters. Gold star lesbians are not virgins, douchebags.
The idea that sex is something a woman gives a man, and she loses something when she does that, which again for me is nonsense. I want us to raise girls differently where boys and girls start to see sexuality as something that they own, rather than something that a boy takes from a girl. – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
And while we’re angry, fuck romanticizing young women killing themselves. (I’m looking at you Vice.) Beauty cannot be preserved in death. To age is not to ruin. We should not be teaching girls that being young and media-standard-pretty and nubile forever is better than living and changing and wrinkling and experiencing and thinking.
When my toddler sees an elderly woman decked out in jewelry, she stops and says, “Oooh pretty!” I don’t want her to ever forget this. It is the act of being beautiful that is beautiful.
Just like Girl, Interrupted, and Prozac Nation, The Virgin Suicides was an artfully shot, once book, dark girl movie from my teenage years. All of them are in debt to the inimitable Plath pandemic that plagues campuses across America. Plath was a tortured genius, and it’s unfortunate that all too often her words are overshadowed by her death. There are so many more, too. Hence the Vice photo shoot, but this is false, false, false, there are so many incredible women writers living, alive, shooting words from their palms. If you want to write, and you’re a woman, you don’t have to die to be taken seriously.
Don’t kill yourselves, ladies, make them take you seriously.
The Virgin Suicides GLORIFIES its “protagonists” deaths. They are each sad, blonde Snow Whites and Sleeping Beauties forever preserved in the minds of our narrators, a group of loser young (now adults) men who obsessively pore (are still poring) over all the details of the girls’ lives, any piece of the puzzle they could garner to make sense of the girls’ tragic deaths.
The movie opens with Cecilia’s attempted suicide. She’s in the hospital bed, her wrists bandaged. The doctor tells her how easy her life is blee blue blah. She then says, “Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a 13 year old girl.”
Promise! A story about the hardships of girlhood, not the trivial hardships that most pop culture idolizes (which is still very important, but in making it consistently trivial you are telling girls that they are trivial when they are everything but), but the existential crises all teenagers face.
Against their stupidly strict yet undefined rules which seem to come without real punishment, the parents throw a party for all their daughters, but especially for Cecilia. All the boys come because they’re all obsessed with the pretty flower vases with the blue eyes. The party is awkward. Until a young man with Down Syndrome shows up. The boys begin making the young man perform. The girls laugh. It’s gross and uncomfortable and it all makes Cecilia really kill herself, thus ending the party. I’m still on board, it’s the beginning of the movie.
I’m watching this by myself, with the kind of migraine that demands dark and quiet, something Sofia Coppola is very good at. I wanted to submerse myself in my girlhood: pink lava lamp, poetry written in blood, dried roses pressed in books, a rosary dangling on a picture frame, my teenage aesthetic, the dark girl from the suburbs. I remembered not liking the film then (whereas I loved Girl, Interrupted), and I wanted to remember why.
Well, there are no protagonists. The closest would be Lux, Kirsten Dunst. She’s the slutty one, though in the beginning, they’re all depicted as horny. Lux is the only one who acts on these urges. Awesome! Agency! Oh, wait, it’s bad, it goes badly. The hottest guy in school, Mr. Trip Fontaine, pursues Lux. He, too, falls in love for no reason, because she’s pretty. And that’s supposed to be like duh, because any boy who encounters the Lisbon girls and their waifish, white, billowy, gently wafting curtains personas, they’re ensnared, because that’s all boys really want, the dead girl in the glass coffin. Lux plays hard to get. So Trip thinks her father owns the keys to her sexuality. He doesn’t, the mother does. Trip asks Dad, Dad asks Mom, Mom agrees, but all the girls must go, so Trip has to find all of them dates, he does, it’s too easy as all the boys beg him to ask them because why would the rest of the girls get a say this is a male fantasy after all. All is successful and Anakin Skywalker is there too! Lux and Trip drink and make out then do it on the football field. HEAVEN, except NOPE they are abandoned by the rest of the party then Lux is abandoned on the field and has to find her own way home which she does and her parents are pissed and all the girls are taken out of school and the windows become quasi-boarded up. Okay…
Now, Lux asks random dudes from fast food places to meet on her roof where she fucks them and the dorky, obsessed narrator boys watch from across the street with binoculars and telescopes. They feel sympathy for Lux when the guy cums too soon, and they lament the cruelty of locking the girls in a proverbial tower. But they don’t do anything other than jerk off. Eventually they communicate via Morse code with lamps and telephone each other playing music because if I were a Lisbon girl locked in a house with crazy fucking parents and I finally found someone to communicate with and ask for fucking help, which is their first Morse transmission, I would want to listen to some Joni fucking Mitchell through the goddamned telephone.
And this leads me to my greatest beef: WHO ARE THESE GIRLS??? Literally, who are they? None of them have any distinguishable personality except Lux who is basically a quixotic slut who likes rock music. She has those three traits and that’s it, the other three have none. Her and Cecilia are the only two with personalities and speaking lines, the others are house plants. Their parents are nebulously, vaguely religious strict. There are no signs of abuse or neglect. The father is hapless, letting his crazy wife make all the decisions which seems to be solely based on a no sex policy because girls are flowers that need to be protected from evil boys out to steal their virginity and leave them in football fields. Because once a girl gets a taste of the naughty she’ll become wildly destructive and give it up all over town, which all happens to Lux. Yawn. This movie is a parable and it’s bullshit.
Why didn’t the girls rebel? The only punishment we ever see is that Lux has to burn her records in the fire and black smoke fills the house, everyone chokes, and this was clearly a failure and Mom gives up and merely throws out the rest. This scene is supposed to be heart-wrenching except it’s totally not. One, it’s just stuff, and while stuff is important to a teenager, so is school and freedom and both of those were taken away with nary a scuffle. We only see Lux protest each individual record for futility’s sake because music is life. Yawn.
Lux wasn’t afraid to stay out all night and fall asleep on a football field with kind of a stranger. She wasn’t afraid of her parents! But then, they took everything away and she cries for her records. She’s not like, FUCK YOU, MOM. IN TWO YEARS I AM SO OUT OF THIS MONASTARY. Which is the reaction I would expect of the girl who decides that on her only night out she’s going to stay out ALL FUCKING NIGHT like it ain’t no thing, like she’ll just get the proverbial slap on the wrist. Except she ruins her sisters lives and they all become princesses, pretty and passive, until they can’t take it any more. They ask the annoying narrators to come rescue them, and they do, they’ll drive anywhere, literally anywhere. They envision all sorts of trips from the travel magazines they steal from the Lisbon’s trash. “Cecilia’s not dead! She’s a bride in Calcutta!” they fantasize. Oh, okay, a child bride, that’s much better. Assholes.
They arrive at the house. Lux is all sexy and slinky and we’ll be out in one minute except nope because they are all dead. The end. Let’s venerate them and this behavior. Those pretty, pretty muses in their first Communion dresses. The perfect girl! Hymens in tact, unsullied. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Misogynist bullshit. Glorifying the unattainable, placing women on impossibly high moonbeams, denies them a chance to be people, just as the movie doesn’t make them people. The flowers died and I’m supposed to be sad but I can only be as sad as when I accidentally kill a house plant. It sucks, but plants come and go. They have no feelings, no desires, no agency. In the beginning, all the girls rub on their only male house guest like cats in heat. They give furtive glances. Then they don’t talk to anybody. They’re rude. Odd. In their own world. Which seems like an awesome sister world that I would’ve LOVED to see, to be a part of, but I can’t because this story is from the lovelorn male narrators’ points of view, which is to look and to awe and to circle jerk.
Maybe the book is better. Books usually are, but I know it has the same structure, is told from the same male gazing, so I’m not hopeful and I’m not wasting my time. My reading list is full and my time is limited. So yeah, fuck this misogynist claptrap. World, please stop stamping your boot on little girls’ faces. Let them speak. Let them shine. Don’t kill them because you think their innocent lives need to remain innocent and that that’s the height of beauty. Real beauty has scars and wrinkles and fat and stands despite being knocked over, despite being stepped on, and says, I’m still here, motherfuckers. I’m still here.
Howdy! This article could not be written any better! Looking at this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept preaching about this. I’ll send this information to him. Fairly certain he’s going to have a good read. Thanks for sharing! dedgbddkfdkg
The book was indeed better, more raw and sureal. It also explains the story in more in-depth detail. Also, there are some things that happened that the movie left out, one of the sisters survives in the book after her sisters kill themselves on the night they invited the boys over. One girl doesn’t die, but kills herself a month later…on the day of some other rich neighbour girls debutant ball. I won’t give too much away, but yeah. Theres bits and pieces the film glossed completely over.
Oh, I believe you. The book is always better. And I mean, I am interested in the greater story at large, there was certainly something anorexic about the movie. It’s just I don’t know when I’ll get around to actually reading the book; it’s not very high on my list at the moment because what I was mainly objecting to was the misogynist idea of romanticizing teen girl purity unto death. I assume that’s still a part of the book?
Yes. It is very misogynist, but still beautiful and romantic. The boys were shallow, the girls brought them all over on the night of the Suicide pact to get revenge against them for viewing them as these perfect like magical princesses, and not human beings who were in pain. The boys were idiots. Looking for an answer and explanation when the girls were obviously miserable because they wanted to fit in but nobody would let them, they had to stay on the pedestal that they’re community placed them on. But in reality the girls couldn’t live up to that, that’s why Trip left Lux. The boys idealized the girls after all those years only because they are now safley dead and they’re troubling reality is over and nobody has to deal with the Lisbon family and all the problems they had anymore. The boys were the selfish ones, not the girls.
I like what you say. I never meant to intend that the Lisbon girls were selfish (we are in complete agreement about the boys), my complaint was that I had no idea who the girls were. It was crazy how empty their characters were, but what I’m gathering from you is that they’re more filled out in the books. That’s nice. Oh! And I really wish the movie hadn’t left out the mass suicide as revenge! That changes everything!
Yea, that’s kind of the point. Your not supposed to know the girls. They were different characters to different people. Towards the end even the news reporters get their names wrong. The girls are seen only at a difference. And are all hidden behind golden veils of mystery. You are supposed to feel just as empty as the boys did in the end.
That’s cool, and I can totally get with that, but I still don’t like those boys, at least as they were represented in the film.
Thank you for writing the only level-headed critique of this BS movie/novel that I’ve read. Everyone else (including literary critics and professional reviewers) buys into the “nothing is as beautiful as a dead young woman” mythology. The noel is NOT better than the movie – it’s just as pretentious and misogynistic, and possibly more irritating because it goes on longer.