The Virgin Suicides Ending: Why Did the Lisbon Sisters Kill Themselves?

Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Virgin Suicides’ plays out like a true-crime story, leaving the audience heartbroken for its subjects but also baffled at how and why this terrible thing happened. The story follows the five Lisbon sisters, all of whom are doomed to die by the end of the film, as the title suggests, by suicide. The audience knows where the story is going to end, and this anticipation is what partly makes the film so exciting. What remains to be seen is the how and the why. The how is pretty easily answered, but it’s the why that becomes the elusive mystery, unanswered and out of reach. SPOILERS AHEAD

The Mystery of the Lisbon Sisters’ Suicide

The story of the Lisbon sisters begins and ends with a “why.” Why did they all kill themselves? Why didn’t they reach out or talk to someone or tell someone? Why did no one notice what was happening with them? And why did they go all at once?

These questions have haunted the boys who spent their days looking at the girls from a distance, from the day of their arrival to their final days, which they spent in isolation, with only each other to talk to and turn to. Despite the brief communication that is set up between the boys and the girls, with the records playing over the phone and the notes they send out, there is no concrete conversation. It is a mere distraction for the girls, but not a way out, which is why the boys continue to search for clues to get inside the minds of the girls even after their deaths. The boys collect their family photos, their journals, and records- the trinkets left behind by them and discarded by their families, all in an effort to get something, anything that tells them why the girls killed themselves.

This question haunts the boys for the rest of their lives, and that is, in a way, the point of the story. Because we always see the Lisbon girls from a distance, because they are always presented to us through the perspective of the boys, we never really get to know them enough to understand what they are going through. We are only made privy to the things that have happened to them, something that everyone knows about, but we never know what is happening inside the Lisbon house when the boys are not spying on the girls when they are not looking.

Considering everything that happens to them, the tragedy of the Lisbon sisters seems all too obvious. It begins with the death of the youngest, Cecilia. When she tries to kill herself by slitting her wrists in the bathtub, the psychologist tells her parents that it is a cry for help and she should get to go out more and socialize with people. Her parents attempt it by throwing a party, but Cecilia kills herself the same night. She becomes the first domino that eventually brings the downfall of the rest of her sisters.

Even when Cecilia was alive, it was clear that the Lisbon sisters were held back and isolated by their parents, particularly their overbearing mother, who kept her daughters on a tight leash. Whatever control she starts to relinquish at the party is taken back when Cecilia dies. Considering that the film takes place in the 70s, it isn’t far-fetched to assume that the Lisbon family is immediately pushed away by their community. Even though the priest tries to reach out, the parents are already too drowned in the grief of their daughter that they don’t realize what’s happening to the rest of their children.

When the sisters return to school, we hardly see them with any friends. The only boys who reach out to them are the ones who are fascinated by them. The girls don’t seem to have any girlfriends, and that goes to show how much they are already cut off from their surroundings. Whatever semblance of contact they had with the outside world is torn away after the homecoming dance when Lux doesn’t come home for the night, abandoned by Trip on the school field after they have sex.

While her father wouldn’t have been too hard on her, Lux’s mother goes out of control when she punishes all of her girls for what would be Lux’s mistake. In her own twisted way, she thinks that the only way she can protect her girls is by locking them up, barring all contact with the outside world, lest they be corrupted any more than they already are. Their mother probably blames Cecilia’s death on this corruption as well. She dies when the girls get the chance to socialize at a party. So, when another party attended by the girls leads to Lux losing her virginity, her mother spirals, and there is no going back from that.

For the girls, who haven’t yet processed the death of their youngest sister, they have only each other to lean on. They didn’t have any friends at school with whom they could share their feelings. Or, whatever friends they might have had probably kept their distance after Cecilia’s death. Lux could have had that outside support had Trip not been such a jerk. For him, Lux was just a conquest; he slept with the girl who never paid him any attention. He is too immature to understand what is going on with her at the time, and he doesn’t even bother to. He breaks whatever thread Lux is holding on to, and she gets worse when thrown in isolation, where the only people she can talk to are the ones going through the exact thing she is going through, but for longer.

It is assumed that the isolation would have created a deeper bond between the girls because they were the only ones who understood each other. With all of them basically children, there was no outside interference, no one to tell them any better. By this time, they are also disappointed by their parents, and perhaps they felt like the only way out was to follow their sister, Cecilia, who had escaped this cycle almost a year ago.

But it’s all speculation, and it will remain so because we, the audience, and the rest of the characters in the story never really got to know the sisters. No one around them was able to or even bothered to break through that wall and get the girls the help they needed. Even at school, when their father is questioned about their weeks-long absence, the other teachers and the principal don’t bother to check in on the girls, especially after Cecilia. It is a collective failure on the part of the people around them, and that’s what kills the Lisbon sisters.

The true reason behind the sisters’ death is meant to remain a mystery because the lack of truth binds them in a romanticized air, one that the boys from across the street keep going back to because that’s the most (and maybe even the only) interesting thing that has happened in their lives. They see the girls from a lens of mystery and fantasize about them, trying to piece together the clues they may have left behind in their journals or drawings or what have you. It is this idea that the boys cling to for the rest of their lives, and they will never find the answers because they were not really looking for it when the girls were still alive. Children as they were, it is only in retrospect that they get some sense of the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” It was because the girls were so out of reach and such a mystery that they were interested in them, and that’s, in a way, one of the reasons why there’ll be no answer to their deaths.

Read More: The Virgin Suicides: Are the Lisbon Sisters Real?