What We Have Here Is A Dreamer

It’s always been so oddly funny to me to explain to people that The Virgin Suicides is one of my favourite films of all time. People who aren’t familiar with it usually so off-putted by the title and then hesitantly ask what it’s about. The title is pretty blunt and clear of what you should expect. I usually say something along the lines of “Oh it’s what it sounds like and it’s just about as happy as it sounds but it’s stunning.” It’s a strange movie to sell. It’s far easier to explain that it’s Sofia Coppola’s feature film directorial debut or Kirsten Dunst and Josh Harnett are in it.

I can’t remember exactly when I originally watched this. Kirsten Dunst has always been my favourite actress from since I can recall being asked that question and formulating an answer to it. I suspect I was simply going through her filmography online and was like ‘Oh, haven’t seen that’ and rented it. I usually got away with renting many odd movies as a young teen because I was typically home alone Fridays nights. That meant my mom letting me get whatever snacks I wanted, something microwaveable for dinner and the cherry on top: a movie or two to watch. So this leads me to believe I was probably 13-15 when I watched this movie home alone on a Friday night with a Michelina, Pull N’ Peel licorice and popcorn.

What I do remember was how immediately taken I was by The Virgin Suicides. I don’t know if I can for sure say I was depressed as a teenager as I was never diagnosed but I definitely had depressive episodes. I often felt alone, overwhelmed and tremendously sad sometimes. It’s easy to say that it was simply the effects of being a teenager rather than something grander. Everything is bigger than it is but is it really?

The Lisbon sisters who are such a mystery to the boys in the neighbourhood so much so that it plagues them for years afterward however to me, the girls who always felt real and tangible to me. They were no mystery at all. I related. I empathized. I felt their longing, pain, happiness and curiosity. The Lisbon sisters were as real as I was and every other teenage girl in the world. The ultimate tragedy that is assigned to them is heartbreaking and again all too real.

Sofia Coppola’s films are quietly enchanting and beautifully transfixing. I proudly name her my favourite director and I have stood by that since I dived more into her movies after my first viewing of The Virgin Suicides and consistently followed her career afterwards. Her filming style has this softness and delicate way about it. You can feel she’s the type of person that wears her heart on her sleeve. She extends an abundance of tenderness to each character and the setting which is equally a character in all her movies.

I really didn’t know I wanted to be a director until I read The Virgin Suicides and saw so clearly how it had to be done. I immediately saw the central story as being about what distance and time and memory do to you, and about the extraordinary power of the unfathomable. It’s about the big themes in life: about mortality and obsession and love. It isn’t about romanticizing suicide. I never saw the Lisbon sisters or their acts as real and I don’t think they were intended to be. The Lisbons are the figments of memory, these lovely mythical creatures of the imagination who are more beautiful than reality can ever be, so of course they cannot last.

Sofia Coppola

What stays with me about The Virgin Suicides isn’t the tragedy nor the poignant sadness this movie is wrapped around. Instead it reminds me of how truly everything was everything when I was a teenager. Every feeling and every moment was bigger than the last. The loneliness was as heavy as the glee was encompassing. There was so much you let go of but even more you kept in. The Lisbons were as real as any other memory I held on to. But how real is a memory? All I can keep with me is how my feelings for my adolescence and this movie go hand in hand.

Doctor: What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.

Cecilia: Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl.

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