“Basically what we have here is a dreamer. Somebody out of touch with reality. When she jumped, she probably thought she’d fly”
Stupefied. Stunned. Spellbound. Held in such a fatal degree of stupor I must frequently remind myself to breathe. This moment, this feeling right now is one of sheer unfathomable joy; euphoric, to be precise. The rarefied elation on witnessing an enchanting novel unspool in this brilliance of a film. The Virgin Suicides is arguably one of the finest adaptations of the last decade and indisputably one of the most compelling novels of this epoch. I chanced upon the novel when it appeared as a recommendation on Goodreads. Then, a dear friend (An ‘art film’ lover, her film palate is rather quirky) told me about the film. Habitually, I always read the book before I watch the film.
The cover page (five withering roses arrayed against the colour of yellowed parchment), a premonition of the reverie I was to delve into. The novel revolves around the suicides of the five Lisbon sisters; Cecilia (aged 13), Lux(14), Bonnie(15), Mary(16) and Therese(17); Chaperoned by a martinet of a mother and an uxorious gauche of a father; both being religious, over-protective and overtly punctilious. Written in third person perspective, it narrates the incidents from the eyes of a bunch of sprightly teenage boys furtively observing the Lisbon girls – every move, every breath, and investigating the reasons which drove them to take such drastic steps. So entranced and obsessed were they by the beauty of the 5 goddesses, a mere glimpse of them sent chills down their spine. Their frail, lithe bodies, pale, rouged cheeks, rounded derrieres, golden locks of hair fluttering in the shallow breeze only fuelled the boys’ (and the reader’s) ever-escalating attraction towards them. The author ingeniously gives a subject as mundane and disquieting as Suicide an air of sublimity: ‘The essence of suicides consisted not of sadness or mystery but simple selfishness. The girls took into their own hands decisions better left to god. They became too powerful to live among us, too self-concerned, too visionary, too blind.’
A Master Novelist, Eugenides’s writing style is inexplicably eloquent, seemingly poetic and surreal, illuminating his flair and finesse. This is evidenced by some prominent quotes in the book;
“What lingered after them was not life, which always overcomes natural death, but the most trivial list of mundane facts: a clock ticking on a wall, a room dim at noon, and the outrageousness of a human being thinking only of herself.”
“We knew, finally, that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.”
Apart from a strong plot and characterization, Eugenides alludes to the malice inflicting society; media propaganda, radical rectitudinous, bad parenting, alarming teen suicide rates etc. This is artfully brought to the fore with the deaths of the Lisbon girls and the void they left behind in the lives of the people.
The film directed by Sofia Coppola is a facsimile of the novel only reproduced as a motion picture with no annoying improvisations or digressing ends as is very commonplace with screen adaptations. Coppola’s exactitude with the characters and plot captures the essence of the novel which is commendable. The film’s gauzy-vintage feel makes the experience vicarious – reliving the glory years. The casting is superlative; from Josh Hartnett as the charming Trip Fontaine to Kirsten Dunst as the sultry Lux Lisbon
LUX LISBON! I’d be damned if I do not give a special mention to this character and to Kirsten who embodies her allure, promiscuity, callowness and alacrity. Her role has left indelible imprints on my inner eyelids titillating wakeful nights. It’s no wonder that Eugenides uses epithets like “Succubus” and “Naiads” to describe the Lisbon siblings. All of whom seem like an immaculate ethereal manifestation.
Both, the film and the book, are timeless, out of this world, sublime. However, The Virgin Suicides is not just a novel or a film but an ode to the glorious adolescent years.
Read it. Watch it. Cherish it.