Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sophia Coppola

          In her chapter, Author/Auteur: Feminist Literary Theory and Feminist Film, Maggie Humm expresses concern over the failures of film's interpretations on novels by saying, "While more than half of all commercial films have literary origins, the coupling of auteur/author or literature/film is continually contested." (Humm, 90) Anyone who's familiar with the film industry likely knows Sophia Coppola, the daughter of director Francis Ford Coppola who directed The Godfather. It turns out the directing bug caught on to her, since she started making movies in 1999. Although she was welcomed to the industry by her father, she formed a name for herself with The Virgin Suicides, one particular work that brought out Coppola's auteur. Unlike the works Humm refers to, Coppola's film adaption was successful and made for better interpretation. 

           The Virgin Suicides was a originally a book written by Jeffery Eugenides that was soon transformed into a movie, becoming Coppola's film debut. The story centers around 5 sisters, known as the Lisbon sisters, who captured the interest of the boys in their neighborhood. Unfortunately for them, they dealt with strict rules under their parents' roof and barely got the chance to leave their home. When boys did get a glimpse of them, they were left with an impression to remember. Unfortunately, all the girls commit suicide for reasons that are not particularly understood. One interesting thing to note is that the narrative is done by one of the neighborhood boys 25 years later, and his identity is left untold. In a scene where the girls are seen getting out of their car, the narrator recalls, "Even then as teenagers, we tried to put the pieces together.We still can't. Now, whenever we run into each other at business lunches or cocktail parties, we find ourselves in the corner going over the evidence one more time. All to understand those 5 girls, after all these years, we can"t get out our minds. " (The Virgin Suicides) This scene, like many other scenes in the movie, really captures the experience of the book. 

          Eugenides, who wrote the novel, was pleased with the casting and admitted that the novel lacks embodiment of character, stating, "The book is not character driven at all. The only character, in a sense, is the narrator, the collective narrator. A lot of the characters, Mr.Lisbon/Mrs.Lisbon, you get a fragmentary knowledge of what they're like in the book so now that they're actually embodied by these really terrific actors, they become sort of bigger characters than I've imagined in the book."(Making of the Virgin Suicides) In the making of the movie, there's a scene where Coppola asks the author to read a page from his novel where Lux's crush, Trip, is walking out of their house. As he's reading, the same visual scene from the movie comes on to the screen, and the director captures the scene perfectly, from the flickering lights to the moment where he takes in deep breaths. Although the author wrote the novel, Sophia got to write the script, and people that worked with her on the movie give her praise for her writing. She really knew how to make the story her own, and give it the understanding that the author needed audiences to see. Prior to the movie, readers were critical of how the book portrayed females. Eugenides recalls, "When the book came out, there were certain people that had thought it was misogynistic, and I always thought my sympathy was with the girls and the book, and Sophia understood that, and I'm glad that she did it because of that."(Making of the Virgin Suicides) It makes one wonder how the script would have turned out if it were in the hands of someone else. Actors of the movie emphasize on why it's useful for the director to write the script, describing how having a separate person write for it would complicate things. Because she's source of the writing, she doesn't have to go back and question the mechanics of the story.
         Sophia Coppola expected for the viewer to leave the movie feeling a sense of nostalgia, as well as lack of fulfillment. The neighborhood boys who obsess over the deaths of the girls contribute to the feeling, after years of reminiscing over something that will never return. An overload of analyzation has gotten them nowhere, and though they have moved on to their grown up lives, they still crave the answer of why the girls killed themselves. These girls were an infatuation of their childhood that took them back to a place of innocence and purity. Coppola explains, "There's always these kind of moments in life that are kind of magical and perfect, but they never last, and you go on but they've always left something with you."(Making of the Virgin Suicides)

         Roger Ebert really understood what the auteur was expressing. He didn't see the film as just a story about sisters committing suicide, but as a film that captures how the adolescent boys praised them. Being that he once was an adolescent boy, he understood what it was like to fall in lust after a girl. Innocence plays a key theme in his review of the film. Everybody in the film was a virgin, except for Lux who lost her virginity to this boy named Trip, only to be abandoned while she was asleep. Ebert doesn't show resentment towards Trip's character, because he has the understanding that young boy's imagine their first experience as something mystical and place that dream on a high pedestal.Once Trip had sexual relations with Lux, that dream was over and he no longer had his innocence. The Lisbon sisters brought on this curiosity to the neighborhood boys, because they were not attainable to them; they were part of a childhood dream."[w]hen the Lisbon girls kill themselves, do not blame their deaths on their weird parents. Mourn for the passing of everyone you knew and everyone you were in the last summer before sex. Mourn for the idealism of inexperience." (Roger Ebert) Ebert continues his review by praising director's approach, something that doesn't come with strong explanation, stating, " She has the courage to play it in a minor key. She doesn't hammer home ideas and interpretations. She is content with the air of mystery and loss that hangs in the air like bitter poignancy." (Roger Ebert)


Humm, Maggie. Feminism and Film. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997. Print.

The Virgin Suicides. Dir. Sophia Coppola. Perf. Kirsten Dunst. Josh Hartnett. James Woods. Paramount Classics, 1999. Film. 

The Making of The Virgin Suicides. Dir. Sophia Coppola. Paramount Classics, 1999. Film. 

Ebert, Robert. "The Virgin Suicides." Rev. of The Virgin Suicides, dir. Sophia Coppola. 5 May 2000. Web.

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