Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What it Felt Like: The Virgin Suicides

I was watching The Virgin Suicides a few weeks ago for the umpteenth time, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head ever since. And what really stood out to me was a section that hadn’t before, which is the final one. Needless to say, spoiler alert for The Virgin Suicides, but I cannot shake from my mind just how incredible that final section is, everything from after the girls kill themselves. When I first saw it, I identified tremendously with the boys, aghast at their parents’ behavior and total lack of understanding, but I assumed what I felt was a young man’s reaction. Of course I thought the parents were being absurd, I’m just a kid.

What the film does so well, and what struck me when I first saw it even if I only barely glimpsed it, is telling the story from a very teenage mindset. That’s why I actually ended up showing the film to a bunch of friends, guys and girls, on Valentine’s Day during our senior year of high school. True, we were all single and, even if we didn’t admit it, slightly bitter about that fact, but none of that matters, because the whole Trip Fontaine section, from his introduction all the way through the end of the Homecoming Dance is, for my money, the best, most emotionally honest representation of high school romance. When you’re in high school, EVERYTHING is monumental. Everything is tragedy, comedy, or conquistador-level victory. Nobody’s felt the way you feel about anything, be it love or death or sports or math.

Which, in turn, is what makes the ending so powerful, and ultimately much more tragic than it would be had the story been told from any other perspective. It’s the boys who have the unfortunate task of trying to comprehend and make sense of what happened to the Lisbon girls, because they’re the only ones emotionally incapable of NOT doing this. Of course their parents tried to shuffle the whole thing aside, make jokes, and just generally move on with their lives. That’s a totally rational reaction to something as monumentally tragic and wholly indefinable as the tragedy of the Lisbon girls. It’s a sad thing to grow up and not be that emotionally vulnerable – necessary, perhaps, but I’d give anything to feel the way I felt about everything in high school.

And that’s what’s so powerful about watching the film now, removed not only from the high school mindset but from college as well, is that I realize how acutely it grasps the high school experience, not just in a theoretical, nostalgic way. The film doesn’t “take me back” by playing a favorite song or creating characters I particularly identify with. But watching The Virgin Suicides evokes what high school FELT like. The very texture of the emotional landscape that is high school is tangible in every second of the film; almost nothing that happens in the film happened to me (I usually went to dances stag, to start with), but it’d be a short leap to realize that I would feel that way about all of it if it had.

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