Back in September 2012, Northwestern Medicine released a study through the Journal of Neuroscience that confirmed the lack of fidelity memory truly has. Your brain works a little differently than you may think and the memories you hold are ever changing. Every time you remember something you’re not thinking back to the time when it really happened. Instead, you’re actually remembering the last time you remembered it. Such is the dilemma of Tim from The Virgin Suicides. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola The Virgin Suicides is able to capture the mystery of adolescence so flawlessly it made me so nostalgic I was nearly brought to a brief period of melancholy.
I feel like I, and many others, attempt to imagine our lives in terms of fiction, but when it comes down to it our past always seems to blend together into this lovely mess of shattered memories. This isn’t always by choice, however, sometimes it’s out of necessity. We frequently find ourselves obsessed with things we have no hope of understanding and this is an important motif rampant within the film. Tim constantly attempts to describe the Lisbon sisters with dense metaphors and colorful language that doesn’t seem to even make sense to him. And despite that, they’re all so pretentious they have no real value in even explaining the true intricacies of live human beings. Before the Lisbon sisters moved in there was no word of them anywhere. They were simply an enigma to the population around them.
In the end, we had pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how we put them together, gaps remained. Oddly shaped emptiness mapped by what surrounded them, like countries we couldn’t name. What lingered after them was not life, but the most trivial list of mundane facts.
Similarly to the tragedy of 9/11 everyone seems to remember time in terms of before and after the Lisbon sisters. We describe America as a post 9/11 society, and before that time was essentially nothing, it’s the past, a dark one we choose not to remember. We obsess over it, we have a day specifically to remember it on. The same can be said about the Lisbon sisters in the context of the film. Tim and his friends’ obsession only seem to grow deeper and more convoluted after the Lisbon sisters die.
At the beginning of the film, after the youngest Lisbon sister, Cecilia, attempts to commit suicide and ends up at a hospital, a small exchange between her and her doctor not only set the tone for the film to come but also introduces a highly significant motif. The doctor while checking her says,
What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.
and Cecilia responds,
Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl.
This is how Coppola introduces the topic of adolescence. More so the unfamiliarity of it all. Whilst trying to understand the Lisbon sisters, Tim and company spend a lot of time misunderstanding them. There is a myriad of reasons why, but unironically its all too easy for Tim and his friends to misunderstand those as well.
We knew 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.
Womanhood, the exit from female adolescence. Something the Lisbon sisters, after witnessing the death of their youngest sister likely felt all too quickly. However, with that rapid shift then comes a new mystery: the mystery of adulthood. I believe this is what Sofia Coppola wanted to get across when. She chose to adapt Jeffrey Eugenides 1993 novel into a cult classic. Life has many secrets, so many intricacies, things you won’t even notice once you’ve completed your journey. Once its over, its over, and the world continues to spin at an indiscriminate pace.
Even when Tim and his gang become adults they are still stuck on what may have happened that night. The night they simultaneously came the closest and the farthest from the Lisbon sisters. And so the case of the Lisbon sisters continues onward, from the past into our future, never to be solved. Not by the audience or by Tim. Not even by Coppola herself. In the purest sense of the word: a mystery.