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Mise En Scene in Sofia Coppola’s the Virgin Suicides Essay

Director Sofia Carmina Copolla has been known for her ultra-feminine, visually stylish, quite ostentatious treatment of her films.. Her love for arts and fashion contributes to the very sensual and appealing form of her work. One of her earlier films, The Virgin Suicides, is a testament to this; with its soft color palettes, dreamy soundtrack, and the liminal and transitional theme of the story that captures the pressures of going through adolescent rites of passage: first dance, first kiss, losing ones virginity.

The mysterious Lisbon girls’ suicides is told to us by an anonymous boy that represents the group of boys that have loved, revered and wondered at the Lisbon girls and were the last to see them alive. In the scene wherein they get a hold of Cecilia’s diary, the director establishes just how much of a mystery these girls are to the boys.

We are never given a clear picture as to the girls’ white-picket-fence suburban lives and the things that might have lead to Cecilia’s suicide; only rumors and gossip offered by neighbors, narrated by the boys; that’s why the diary serves as both a vehicle for the advancement of the plot and an important medium to communicate to us the Lisbon girls’ thoughts and feelings in a distant yet very personal way. The boys wanted to know what could have triggered the death of one them, and in knowing more about them, they come to fall in love with the elusive Lisbon girls.

Even the diary prop, innocent in the way that it was made–with the stickers of rainbows, drawings of flowers, written in beautiful cursive–contained incredibly sad anecdotes about Cecilia and the girls. It was almost a foreshadowing of the things to come; how the innocent, angelic girls could commit suicide for no readily apparent reason. The diary scene starts with the boys flipping through the pages together. It is important that we go together with the boys through their journey in processing their information and feelings towards the girls.

In this scene we are given our own space in the circle, as one of the investigators of Cecilia’s suicide, in the way the shots were framed. Medium to close up shots of the diary prop and the boys makes us feel like fellow speculators, looking over the shoulders of others in an attempt to figure out what’s going on. It is important to note also, the contrast in color, from the circle of boys hanging out in a room, to the dreamy, imagined diary entries.

The very masculine solid blues, striped greens, dark reds of their costumes, the gray checkered walls and bed sheets; transitions to the softly lit, and cross-fading yellows, oranges, sky blues and meadow greens of the girls. The diary entry montages is how the boys would like to imagine the Lisbon girls, as the voice over says, “we knew that the girls were actually women in disguise, and that they understood love, and even death” It starts with them reading through entry after entry, looking for anything that might explain Cecilia’s suicide. They skim through a few, not very interested in anything. Boring, thinks the guys.

One of the boys say “how many pages can you write about dying trees? ” It is only until they encounter entries that tell of the Lisbon sisters that their attention is shifted from looking for something to finding out about the girls. It is interspersed with half-a-second clips of Lux that looked almost like it was taken from a home-made video; it is punctuated with only the starting beats of Air’s Ce Matin La. The discontinuity of the music and the clips of Lux connotes that this is not what they were looking for, as it only ever induces slivers of imagined flashbacks with the girls, but they were close.

The boys settle on an entry that tells of Lux’s relationship with Kevin Heines the garbage man and the music continues and this time, does not stop, as Cecilia voices over entry after entry with a montage of the playful girls. This is how the boys see the girls through the diary; skimming through the pages, they see fragments and glimpses of their memories, thoughts, and feelings; and so it is only befitting that this is how they imagine them as well.

In only second-long clips of languid camera movements, extreme close ups of desirable mouths, desirable hair brushing desirable eyes, cross-fading to unicorns and fireworks, tree swings, green meadows and pure white clouds. “And so we started to learn about their lives” the voiceover says. They saw through the diary how incredibly still and stifling a sheltered Lisbon girl’s life could be, “the way it made your mind active and dreamy and you ended up knowing what colors go together” The surreal video montage, and the Lux imagined flashbacks, all contribute to the feeling of mystery and alienation that the girls bring.

A diary can only ever reveal so much about a girl, let alone a group of girls. The boys realize that they can never know the girls in their entirety. To further drive this point home, the scene ends with the screen fading to black, with only the voiceover saying “we knew that they knew everything about us, and we couldn’t fathom them at all” this then adds to the later frustration of the girls’ suicides, such that, by the end of the film, the group of boys that have fallen in love with the girls, say that they will spend the rest of their lives trying to put together the unsolvable mystery of the Lisbon sisters.


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