Friday, May 6, 2011

More Screenshots

In the movie, the colours progress from light sunny yellow, to a monotone pale hue, to dark blue, and finally to green. The colour progression shows portrays the underlying emotion of the film, something that goes unspoken in the community.

 This is the shot of Lux as she wakes up on the football field alone the next morning. Another major difference in the movie is added here; in the book, Lux comes home very late at night, instead of very early in the morning. This is the specific scene where the colour tone switches to a dark blue. The colour is cold, and makes the viewer feel lonely, which is a direct parallel to the sunny hues of the beginning of the movie. The shot is an aerial shot, and is also a long shot. This brings attention to the fact that Lux is very alone in her situation, and now feels small and insignificant. Her actions of the night before are now being seen in the eye of the "bigger picture" and she most definitely regrets the choices she has made. I really like that she is wearing all weight in this scene, because white is the colour of purity. This is of course very ironic for Lux's current situation. She is hunched over, searching for her shoes, as the magic of the night before and the reality of how much trouble she is going to be in has faded.

These two screenshots are towards the end of the film, after the suicides have been completed and the boys are left searching for answers. The top frame is the last shot that is shown in the movie. It is of the boys after a debutante party, as they stand on the sidewalk,. staring off into the distance. The camera pans out from them, again making the characters feel very alone. It is interesting to mention that the boys went to a party and met girls, and are now being portrayed as along and insignificant, just as Lux was portrayed after her evening with rip in the earlier shot. This scene, while simple, looked very thoughtful and compelling. It has a very cool colour palette, but is not the darker blue of the earlier shots. It is kind of a green-ish blue, which indicates that the initial sorrow over the death of the sisters has passed, but there is still a remarkable haunting quality to the neighbourhood. Eugenides actually mentions the greenish tinge in the novel, which is then translated into the movie: "It was full-fledged summer again, over a year since Cecilia had slit her wrists, spreading the poison in the air. A spill at the plant increased the phosphates in the lake and produced a scum of algae so thick that the swamp smell filled the air, infiltrating the genteel mansions. Debutantes cried over the misfortune of coming out in a season everyone would remember for its bad smell". The smell in question is actually visible, as a thick green smog that overpowers most of the neighbourhood parties (as seen in the second shot above). To me, this is beyond eerie and works incredibly well. It is almost like the death of the Lisbon girls caused an imbalance in the "great chain of being" causing this otherworldly smog to form, almost as if they were suffocating the neighbourhood with their death. The warm sunny hues and the straightforward "sad" blue tones are gone, and all the neighbourhood is left with is this bizarre green tone. It's not sad, and it's not happy, because the community is neither the former or the latter. This green smog (and how the neighbourhood reacts to it by throwing asphyxiation themed parties) highlights how bizarre and unconventional society really is.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Something I briefly mentioned in an earlier post, but didn't get around to explaining is the very noticeable colour change that occurs throughout the movie. Sofia Coppola is really skilled at using colour tones to create a mood or atmosphere, as I have seen this technique in all of her movies. The Virgin Suicides is no exception. There are certain scenes that highlight a climax in the plot, and from these scenes comes a tone change or adjustment, because a new feeling in society and throughout the neighbourhood is introduced. This is one of the reasons this movie is so effective.

This is a frame from the beginning of the movie. Therese sits in the corner of the frame looking up into the sunset. The sunset may indicate a new dawn or part of the girl's life. To me, it always looked like the girls were spending time in the last part of their childhood, symbolized as the setting sun. Therese looks carefree and wistful at the same time. The grass around them symbolizes the beauty in the simplicity of nature. Notice that it is not an elaborate garden or remarkable forest; it is simply a patch of grass and weeds. This shows how the girls found beauty in nature, in the beauty that is all around in the world that most people seem to miss. Lux's face appears in the rest of the frame. It is just an outline of her face, faded like a memory. This adds to the dreamy quality of the sequence, but also may indicate that the boys' memory of Lux is faded. The fact that the girls' faces from two different shots in spliced indicates that the girls have some sort of mental and emotional connection, almost like they have a collective set of feelings and thoughts. I like this shot because it shows a side of Therese that is otherwise not touched on in the book.

This shot is taken during the party when Cecilia has jumped out of her bedroom window and is impaled on the fence outside. This shot interests me because it gives a view of the action from the street, as an outside observer would see it. One can see that it is very obvious that the Lisbon family likes their privacy, because there are heavy curtains in some windows, and gauzy curtains in the rest of the windows. This gives an air of mystery. Cecilia herself is in the darkness, and her and her father's face are unseeable. Mrs. Lisbon appears in the light, playing the role of protective parent, her arms are out so the girls can't see what has happened to their sister. This is one of the only moments that I liked Mrs. Lisbon as a mother and one of the only times I saw how hard she works to protect her children. The tone here is very dark and sinister, but also very peaceful at the same time. The faint glow on Cecilia makes her look like an angel or other otherworldly creature.

The tone of this shot seems unassuming at first, but it kind of reminds me of the first shot, except the colour looks fake and forced, as if the happiness is not real. The boys are scattered throughout the photo; if the viewer was not looking for them, they might not have been seen because they blend in. Most of the other students in the picture are brunette, and the Lisbon blonde stands out, making them the focus. Interestingly enough, this is not a very good picture of any of the Lisbon girls. Lux looks angry and sullen, Bonnie has her arms crossed and Mary and Therese look as if they are forcing smiles. From right to left, the picture reads from the eldest sister to the youngest sister, but reasons for this I cannot fathom. It may be the order of death as well. This image starts out far away, and we see many other students, but we cut to a closer snapshot of the girls with every take, as if the viewer of the photo is trying to analysis them, to look for some foreshadowing, something pointing to what's to come. The fact that the photo starts off so far away indicates that the girls may have gotten lost in a sea of people at school, and went unnoticed by everyone except the boys.

This scene is not to be annotated, but I have read something very compelling about this particular shot. This is the snapshot that Mr. Lisbon takes of the girls before they go to the prom. Note that Lux's hand looks like she is holding a cigarette, which is how she is found when she dies. Therese's eyes are closed, and she ends up overdosing on sleeping pills. Mary coughs right after the photo is taken, and she dies by putting her head in the oven. Bonnie's arm looks like a noose around hr neck, like how she commits suicide. This part of the movie wasn't included in the book because it would not be so subtle in text as it is on film. Just something interesting I found out about!

Book vs. Movie

There were a few significant differences between the book and the movie, but as far as screen adaptations go, Sofia Coppola did a really good job of staying true to the original ideas that Eugenides had, and kept the overall surreal, haunting quality very present. In fact, most of the dialogue from the movie was taken right out of the book. While I did enjoy the movie thoroughly, and seeing it was my reason for reading the book, I am sure that I enjoyed the book much more than the movie.

One of the biggest differences in the plot of the book versus the plot of the movie was the death of Mary Lisbon. In the movie, Mary Lisbon dies right away alongside her sisters in the final suicide that ends the book. However, in the book, she survives for a few weeks, before killing herself with sleeping pills in the family home. I personally liked the movie version of this better, though the novel made us feel a lot more sympathy for Mary and learn about her more as an individual. I think this was cut from the movie for timing reasons, and because it would have dragged out the plot a lot longer. I personally don't think it would have worked very effectively on screen.

Another thing Coppola changed was the character is Trip Fontaine. He is much more likeable in the movie then in the book. In the book, his reason for leaving Lux alone on the football field is because he "got sick of her", but in the movie adaptation Trip says that he left her and he didn't exactly know why. It is made very clear in the movie that Trip was full of regrets about his life and was still haunted by the memory of Lux. In the book he seemed belligerent and somewhat obnoxious, but Josh Harnett played him with more lightheartedness and likeability.

A lot of the uglier details of the novel were left out. The conversation about Therese having upper lip hair that needed bleaching, and the sequence where Lux fakes an appendix rupture to get a pregnancy test and finds out she has an STD were conveniently not there. They would kind of wreck the ethereal  and dreamy quality of the movie, and wouldn't really fit in to any of the other sequences. In this way, the book seemed more raw and realistic.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Reaction to the Film

I saw this movie for the first time when I was in grade eleven and had just recently become a fan of Sofia Coppola's films. I can honestly saw that the the title was what drew me to the movie. Anything with self-inflicted death and an implied sexual undertone is right up my alley, because it is guaranteed to create a good story, as questionable as that may sound. Anyways, when I first saw the movie I was really excited to see it.

I remember being drawn into the complex storyline. I watched intently, rewinding and replaying the interesting parts, or the parts I didn't really understand. I remember my stomach lurching when the smallest of the Lisbon boys bumps into the dangling feet of Bonnie Lisbon. I felt so let down and disappointed alongside the boys when they realized that their elaborate fantasy of running away in the family station wagon with the girl was just an elaborate fantasy. Seeing that scene played out in the movie was very moving for me. The picture is sunny and warm, the boys and the girls are packed in the car, smiling and laughing. Lux sticks her head out the window and smiles serenely as they drive away from their seemingly cursed neighbourhood; everyone is happy. Then the let down: the boys find the dead girls and sprint back to their houses. No dialogue is said, until the narrator bleakly repeats "We were never certain about the sequence of events. We argue about it still."

I think the casting of the movie was perfect. James Woods played the awkward, geeky almost shy Mr. Lisbon, while Kathleen Turner was the perfect mix of controlling christian mother and lost soul. A (very) young Josh Hartnett is now the only person I can envision as womanizer Trip Fontaine. Kirsten Dunst played the ideal Lux; she looks and acts so much like a young girl, yet has such a distinct femininity in her actions which is the perfect combination. I've heard a lot of complaints on forums about the movie that the girls who played the Lisbon sisters weren't attractive enough. Mary, Lux and Cecilia are considered attractive, while many thought that Bonnie and Therese weren't appealing at all. I say that the girls didn't need to be movie-star gorgeous, or the realism of the movie would have been compromised. It didn't matter how imperfect the girls' teeth, face shape or body type was, their imperfections were what set them apart from anyone else, and like most girls in their teens, they had lots of them. The boys didn't just love them because they found them beautiful, there was a deeper connection between them.

I loved this movie a lot, and it will continue to be one of my favourite films of all time. However, the book was much better, which is saying a lot. The film did an amazing job of capturing Eugenides' vision, but the story of the Lisbons is much more moving in print then on film.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The End

Like everyone must do when tragedy strikes, the boys start to move on from the Lisbon girls. They attend parties, find new girl interests and commence their summer, but can't seem to forget the foreboding house down the street. The Lisbon house is cleaned and everything that belonged to the girls is thrown out, with the exception of things that the boys managed to salvage: family pictures, make-up, Cecilia's converse, Bonnie's candles, Lux's bra. The remaining two Lisbons pack up their things and move out in the dead of night. The Lisbon house is sold to a young couple and remodelled; it is the Lisbon house no longer.

But still, even after all loose ends are tied up, the boys can't help but linger...

Finishing this book, I had to take a walk for a little while. The ending was so beautiful, and simple. I have no idea why it struck me so much, but that's just the power of this novel. I liken it to the Titanic: when you watch the movie, everyone knows the boat is going to sink, yet when it actually goes under the response is that of heartbreak and shock. The death of the Lisbon girls was inevitable; we knew if from page two. There were no surprises, no twist ending. Nobody rose from their grave, none of the boys even said more than a few sentences to each of the girls through the course of the novel. The girls themselves never did anything profound, barely moved from their bedroom window, barely glanced at us, the reader. And then their lives ended. Why then, does this novel, this story, generate so much emotion from the reader?

"It didn't matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only that we had loved them, and that they hadn't heard us calling, still do not hear us, up in the tree house with our thinning hair and soft bellies, calling them out of those rooms where they went to be alone for all time, alone in suicide, which is deeper than death, and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together" (Eugenides 325).

I am so glad I finally read this book.

This is one of the songs by the French instrumental band Air who did an instrumental soundtrack for Soffia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides. This is, in my opinion, the best song on the CD. It's melancholy and dreamy and captures the tone of the novel perfectly.

Jeffrey Eugenides

I'm one of those people that thinks it's a really good idea to research the author after I've finished reading the book. I'm also one of those perpetually lazy people that only do such a thing if the book I've read was really good. This can most definitely be argued as one of those times.

Jeffrey Eugenides was born in 1960 in Detroit, Michigan. He graduated from Brown University, and has his Masters degree in English and Creative Writing. The Virgin Suicides is his first novel, published in 1993. He has another book, Middlesex, which has received paramount amounts of critical acclaim, and which I plan on reading as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. His works have been translated into several different languages, though The Virgin Suicides is his only novel that has ever been made into a feature film. He has won a Pulitzer Prize for his contribution to literature with Middlesex.

I am intensely curious as to the inspiration behind The Virgin Suicides. My curiosity has grown even more, due to the fact that this novel takes place very close to where Eugenides grew up. The Lisbon sisters reside in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, while Eugenides lived as a teenager (almost in parallel) in Detroit.  Though many sources state that he has been reluctant to discuss his private life, it is certainly uncanny that he was a teenager boy at the same time and relatively the same place as the fictional Lisbon sisters. Eugenides hints in some interviews that the story of the Lisbons was written subconsciously about the decline of Detroit's auto industry, and therefore about the decline of a city. This is mentioned somewhat throughout the novel, in subtle details.

To be honest, after watching the movie (before I even opened the book), I was surprised that The Virgin Suicides was written by a male author. A lot of the qualities present in his writing seem almost distinctively female. The subject matter, choice of adjectives and (at times) gentle poetic tone lead to originally assume that this book was by a woman.

Possible Theories

Interestingly enough, the theories made about the Lisbon girls tend to reflect more on their theorists then the girls themselves:

"Platelet serotonin receptor indices in suicidal children" (Eugenides 286)
The doctor assigned to the Lisbon case determined that Mary had low serotonin levels. I find that often professional adults prefer to use science to explain phenomenons, instead of digging deeper to the root emotional cause. Often professional adults are uncomfortable with the idea of teenagers having real tangible emotions that can end in tragedy. I often feel as if they don't want to give young adults that power; the prefer to devalue their emotions, writing them off as being "just a teenager".

"The suicides  were an esoteric ritual of self sacrifice" (Eugenides 289)
"The girls planned the suicides in concert with an undetermined astrological event" (Eugenides 289)
This is theorized by the persistant local news reporter Lydia Perle. Like most adults, she wanted someone to blame, without pointing her finger at herself or people like her. It is highly unlikely that the Lisbon sisters were involved in any sort of ritual self-sacrifice. However, it does direct the blame somewhere else by distracting the community, and like any other reporter, Perle just wants to find a story that will sell to the community. It is sad how adults tend to write off things they can't understand, or events that might leave them with some degree of blame.

"They reacted to the suicides with a mild shock, as though they'd been expecting them, or something worse" (Eugenides 300).
The apathy of adults in this community is astonishing and borderline sickening.

"Something sick at the heart of the country infected the girls" (Eugenides 301)
"People saw their  clairvoyance in the wiped-out elms, the harsh sunlight, the continuing decline of our auto industry" (Eugenides 318)
This theory might have some weight to it. In a way, I think the girls were overwhelmed with the ways of the world they lived in. Eugenides mentions Detroit several times in his explanation of this theory. The way the country, more specifically the city was being run did not work for the girls, and they felt powerless, like many people did at the time to change it. In the society, not enough merit was placed on thoughts and feelings of young girls. They felt left behind and unneeded, in a world that was progressing too fast for them, but leaving so many holes behind.

"They killed themselves over our dying forests, over manatees maimed by propellers as they surfaced to drink from garden hoses; they had killed themselves at the sight of used tires stacked higher than pyramids; they had killed themselves over the failure to find a love none of us could ever be. In the end, the torture tearing the girls pointed to a simple reasoned refusal to accept the world as it was handed down to them, so full of flaws" (Eugenides 320)
I think this is the single most important explanation as to why the Lisbon girls decided to end their lives. They were too good for the world that they lived in, and they could not bear to go through with the long lives ahead of them knowing the type of evil and sadness that frequently occurs on Earth. Cecilia knew all about the unfairness; she wrote in her diary about the endangered species list. The rest of the girls got a taste for the unfairness of the world when their sister died, their parents ignored them and they were alienated at school and by society. Lux got a taste of the unfairness in the world when she met Trip. Isolated and treated as a museum exhibit, I can understand why they would want to be with their departed sister then inside their mother's house.

"So much has been written about the girls in the newspapers, so much has been said over back-yard fences, or related over the years in psychiatrists' offices, that we are certain only of the insufficiency of the explanations" (Eugenides 323)
Eugenides stresses that there is no definite answer. The boys don't know, the media doesn't know. The parents, teachers, former friends, family, doctors and even the girls themselves may not even know why the Lisbon girls all died within a year. There was no note left, no clues, no hidden diaries or telephone calls. The story revolves around the death of youth and beauty, and sometimes youth and beauty die without entrusting an explanation.