Precious Bodily Fluids

The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, 1999)


The film achieves something unusual and delightfully nuanced: a kind of secondary identification that subverts the typical male POV by rendering it merely a proxy of women (or in this case, girl) characters. The story is told in retrospect by a few grown men reminiscing about some enigmatic girls from their shared youth. Despite the fact that we are not given direct identification with the girls, the film somehow achieves not only sympathy for them but empathy with them. How does it do this? What techniques are put in the service of subverting point-of-view? For one, what the boys see confuses them. They do not merely see the stuff of their fantasies, a more traditional tactic that spoon-feeds an assumed-male audience that fetishizes the female body. These boys certainly fetishize the girls, but their fetishization is continually disappointed by various realities of not just “the” experience of teenage girls (to which the hospitalized girl appeals at the film’s beginning), but the unique experience(s) of these girls in this place, in this time. Whether it’s conversational surprises on the way to prom, discovering tampons in their bathroom instead of something sexier, aloofness to boys, or the titular suicides, the girls continue to confound the boys, who remain confused even into their adulthood. Strikingly, the boys describe the girls toward the end as an incomplete puzzle, one with gaps “like countries we couldn’t name.” This geographical analogy corresponds to a practice of the house-bound girls of ordering magazines and catalogs about exotic locales. We are given imagined images of these places from the boys’ point of view, complete with them and the girls in a montage of a non-existent photo album. They note that even the dead sister is alive in this world. The film’s coda, about an asphyxiation party of genteel suburbanites, disengages from the main narrative effectively and provides a removed perspective on all that’s transpired. Various stylistic touches pepper the film and establish an auteur at the helm: slow motion, time-lapse photography, split screens, isolated fades, and a soundtrack (often diegetic) consisting of popular music contemporary to the film’s narrative era.

This entry was published on June 26, 2014 at 9:24 pm. It’s filed under 1990s Cinema, American film and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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