The Virgin Suicides: The Inspiration Behind the Movie, Explained

Directed by Sofia Coppola, ‘The Virgin Suicides’ is a psychological drama film that explores themes of loss and social repression through an adolescent lens. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Kathleen Turner, and Josh Hartnett, alongside many others, the film revolves around the five beautiful yet arcane Lisbon sisters and the mystery surrounding them, as told by a group of neighboring boys. The boys’ fascination with the girls remains well into adulthood when they come together to reflect on the Lisbon sisters and try and solve the puzzle of their mysterious existence.

Since its release in 1999, ‘The Virgin Suicides’ has turned into a bit of a cult classic. Fans of the film praise its authentic portrayal of teenagehood and its ability to resonate with the audience. However, how much of the authenticity is tied to reality, and how much of the film is based on a true story?

The Virgin Suicides By Jeffrey Eugenides And Coppola’s Connection To It

‘The Virgin Suicides’ is not based on a true story. ‘The Virgin Suicides’ is the directorial feature film debut of Sofia Coppola. Coppola also wrote the film’s screenplay, which is vastly based on a novel of the same name by Jeffrey Eugenides. Coppola first came across this story as a young adult. “I remember seeing the cover – it was just all this blonde hair. I read it and loved it. It felt like Jeffrey Eugenides, the writer, really understood the experience of being a teenager: the longing, the melancholy, the mystery between boys and girls,” she recounted the creation of her debut film on ‘The Start,’ The Guardian’s culture podcast.

Jeffrey Eugenides, the author of the book,’ in turn, first got the idea for it when he was visiting his brother. On his visit to Michigan, he had an impromptu conversation with his nephew’s babysitter wherein she told him about a previous attempt by her and her sisters to take their lives. When further questioned about their motive behind it, the babysitter only added that they had been under a lot of pressure. This spontaneous confession lends the air of curiosity and mystery that forms the basis of the book and the film.

The film is a very faithful adaptation of the book. However, at the same time, it brings a unique perspective by corporealizing the Lisbon sisters. Sofia Coppola is known for films like ‘Lost in Translation‘ and ‘Marie Antoinette.’ She has a knack for telling stories through imagery without having to rely solely on dialogue. In ‘The Virgin Suicides,’ she does the same and adds an extra layer of mystery and eeriness through her filmography.

Additionally, Coppola’s depiction of what it feels like to be young and on the precipice of maturity rings true with a wide range of audiences. Though there are a lot of stories about teenagers and adolescents, few manage to deliver such a nuanced take on it. Though the Lisbon sisters remain a mystery throughout the film, their experience of being socially held back by their strict, orthodox parents is something many people can relate to.

Furthermore, the heightened curiosity and limited understanding of sex and romance, as portrayed by the characters in the film, is also a universal experience. However, that isn’t the only aspect of the film that reflects reality. The underlying theme of loss and grief is heavily present in the story. Eugenides and Coppola both had real-life experiences that shaped the way they communicated those emotions in the story.

Eugenides’ experience growing up in Detroit at the time of the Detroit Rebellion gave him a sense of impermanence from early on in his life. Decayed, demolished buildings became the backdrop of his young life. This translated heavily into the characterization of the Lisbon sisters and their depression. Similarly, Coppola lost her eldest brother Gio in a boating accident at 15. The accident left Coppola with an intimate understanding of grief and loss from a young age, which may have been later unintentionally utilized as fuel while creating ‘The Virgin Suicides.’

Apart from the widespread messaging, the concentrated plotlines depicted in the film are also intricately explored while still being relatable. Lux’s teenage heartbreak after her Shakespearean romance with Trip and the subsequent rebellious arc that follows may resonate deeply with numerous people. Meanwhile, the obsessive fascination that the neighborhood boys have with the Lisbon sisters is also a great reflection of the adolescent interest in the unknown.

With a suburban 1975 Michigan setting and a cast of young characters, the story is able to convey simultaneous themes of loss and youth exceptionally well. The more morbid themes of depression, grief, and suicide included in the film, much like the Lisbon sisters, carry an everpresent air of mystery around them. Though ‘The Virgin Suicides’ is not based on a true story, it is easy to see how it ties into reality.

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