Back to School 2011: The Virgin Suicides Debate, Part 2

In true school spirit, Emily and Michelle have teamed up debate club-style to bring you our takes on Sofia Coppola's debut feature film, The Virgin Suicides. Emily fights the case in favour of the book-to-film adaptation, while Michelle fights back in our two-parter piece.

EMILY: One problem I did have with the depiction of Trip was "Older Trip." I mean, he looked nothing like him at all. Terrible casting.

MICHELLE: Yeah, that was just weird. If he didn't start talking about Lux, I might not have even known it was him.

EMILY: Exactly!

MICHELLE: But going way back to when you were talking about the boys. One thing I think is great about the film is that it actually does respect Jeffrey Eugenides' pitch-perfect wording. So much of the dialogue is taken straight from the book. The ending in particular comes to mind. When he speaks of never "finding the pieces to put them back together."

MICHELLE: I wanted to talk about the ending too. Before I decide I want to read a book, I judge it by its first and last lines. And that's partly the reason I love this book. The ending of that book is the most amazing writing I have ever read. So although I was glad they used some of it at the end of the film too - as well as throughout - I was disappointed about the pieces that they cut out. The film didn't want ugliness in it. They didn't talk about the men's "thinning hair and soft bellies," just as earlier in the film they didn't talk about the girls' hairy upper lips and bloody tampons. But ugly is as much part of the beauty of it all, to me.

EMILY: I think Sofia definitely wanted to focus in on the dreamier aspects of the boys' perceptions of the Lisbon sisters. It's disheartening given the total honesty in the book. However, I don't think all the ugliness is gone. It's just toned-down for a PG-13 rating. That is always the curse of books turned into movies. Something ugly written down is much more acceptable than something ugly seen. It sucks but it's the truth.

MICHELLE: Yeah, I agree. But the film did turn out to be visually beautiful and I can understand why Coppola might not have wanted to taint that.

EMILY: I feel like that was her way of emphasizing the disjuncture between adolescent dreams and reality and how hard it is to be knee deep in both simultaneously. We are so clouded by what we think is right and perfect that ignore the truth, until it's too late to turn back. Just like the boys with the Lisbons.

I feel like your issues are more with the script and actors, though, rather than the visual style. Am I right? What do you think Sofia did right?

MICHELLE: Yes, the visual style was beautiful except for those strange animations every so often. Like when Trip is pinning the corsage on Lux before the dance and we get a window to her underwear, which says Trip on it. What was that?! It's so out-of-place, so jarring.

EMILY: I always hated that part with Lux in a field. I really think Sofia had a girl crush on Kirsten Dunst at the time.

MICHELLE: Yeah, really. This film was too much about Lux. She's even taken over the movie-version book cover. Although it is a pretty cover, I think Coppola needed a reminder that this is a story of five girls.

EMILY: Yes, she was supposed to be the magnetic one but it was a bit ridiculous at times. I still wish we knew more about Cecilia. But we don't in either version. She always fascinated me. I love that line she says to Dr. Danny DeVito... "Obviously, you've never been a 13-year-old girl."

MICHELLE: That was one of the most beautiful lines of the entire film, even in the book. It breaks my heart.

EMILY: But one thing I really think you in particular should appreciate about the film is it's awesome in references to other films and plays. Like when the boys are flipping coins at the party. So Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead. And when Trip is floating in the pool aimlessly. That's obviously a nod to The Graduate. I mean, I like to think so.

I actually hadn't seen R&G when I saw this film, but re-watching it, that was such great intertextuality. R&G is so much about a pre-written, unchangeable fate and I have to say that was a beautiful layer to add to the story. You can tell that Coppola did pay careful attention to detail.

EMILY: So, if you could give The Virgin Suicides a letter grade now, what would you give it?

MICHELLE: Well, you've managed to sway me a bit. I didn't give Coppola enough credit when I first saw this film. She dared to tamper with my favourite book and turn it into something new and different that I had trouble placing next to the original. Though I do still have some issues with it that I can't get over. And the fact that film has pretty much swallowed the book really bothers me. I feel more people think of the film when they hear The Virgin Suicides than the amazing, lyrical book. But at least the film turns people onto the book. I think I'd give it a B-. What would you give it?

EMILY: Honestly? Probably an A-. I absolutely love it. I'm a sucker for coming-of-age tales, especially when they're slightly gothic and bittersweet and soft rock-set. While I see the discrepancies between the book and the film, I don't find them bothersome. The right moments, in my opinion, are still there as is the overall feeling I think Eugenides wanted to convey. It reminds me a bit of the movie of The Lovely Bones. I wanted to hate it - and there was SO MUCH missing - but there were enough perfectly right-on moments to make me kind of love it. And that's all you can ask for in a book adaptation, I think.