July 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
July 14, 2013 § 4 Comments
When I first saw The Virgin Suicides in the theater in 1999, the title felt like a mislead. Lux loosing her virginity in the third act seemed to make calling this ‘the virgin suicides’ no longer true. Along with a long time fascination with Sofia Coppola, it was the title that had lured me to the film. I had been studying women in the classical world at the time in college and was entranced by the vestal virgins, the Delphic oracles. The ancient world would take young virgin girls and put them in a sequestered space, protect them from the outside world while also imprisoning them. They believed these virgin girls to have a special power that came from their purity, an idea that still exists today. It’s a way of thinking that has birthed much shaming of women when they become sexual, the idea that there is power in virginity. However, this film shows these isolated girls taking this supposed power into their own hands through the most selfish of acts, suicide.
The Lisbon sisters are a group clearly set apart from the world around them. Even before they are physically put under lock-down in their family home, the unit of the four surviving sisters is like a multi-armed, multi-legged, multi-headed creature, whose boundaries are clearly defined and uncrossable. The male narrators’ viewpoint of them is that of outsiders, desperate to be absorbed into this isolation, to understand the power this bond between the girls has created. They describe the sisters as “oddly shaped emptiness mapped by what surrounded them.”
When I began to think more about this issue I had with the title versus the events that unfold in the film, I found myself pondering the shot of Kirsten Dunst alone on the football field after having lost her virginity to Trip Fontaine. She lays prone, eyes closed, the early dawn light making her skin pale and lifeless. This is her spiritual death. From this point on, Lux is a lifeless wraith, existing rather than living. Her spirit, so bright before that point, is extinguished. Though all her sisters go into death as virgins, their deaths involve this reoccurring theme – death by the insertion into a yonic symbol.
The death that precedes Lux’s spiritual one is Cecilia. This is the most visually obvious of this ‘death of virginity’ symbolism. She is literally pierced, her life taken by the violent thrust of the phallic fence point into her midsection. The visual of her body, Christ-like in her father’s arms, with the iron fence staking her is one of the film’s most visually arresting. When I saw the film in the theater, the audience responded with audible gasps.
The deaths of her four sisters at the end of the film each have some kind of insertion symbolism. Bonnie (who is discovered as one of the male characters is describing his sexual desire for the sisters) puts her head through the noose of a rope while Mary is upstairs, putting her head into the oven and Therese is taking sleeping pills. Though looser in the visual, the head into the noose, the head into an oven, the pills into a mouth, these three acts involve the insertion into a yonic symbol. The thrust of the head, the tightening of the rope and the swallowing of the pills are the symbolic deaths of their virginity, done by their own hands. This self empowered hold of their fates is a final desperate act, the only means of escape, making the pure no longer holy. As the male narrator says, the outrageousness of a human being thinking only of herself.