Sofia Coppola’s Mystery Girls


For her limpid, pitch-perfect adaptation of The Virgin Suicides, first-time director Sofia Coppola adheres both to the narrative rhythms and the melancholy, near-hallucinatory ambience of Jeffrey Eugenides’s beloved 1993 novel—a suburban reverie on the mysterious self-annihilations of five ethereally beautiful sisters, told by the boys who loved them from afar. “Jeffrey calls the Lisbons the fever dream of the boys,” Coppola says. “I wanted to make the movie a fever dream.”

Since the 28-year-old Coppola is a veteran photographer, it’s no surprise that much of Suicides doubles as eerie tableau, including one of its most indelible episodes: the death of the youngest Lisbon, Cecilia, impaled on a fence after jumping from her bedroom window. “I wanted it to look like the final scene of a tragic opera, so I pulled back wide,” the director explains. “You see it from the neighbors’ perspective, from the outside. The boys are shocked, they don’t understand what has happened, and the audience can’t tell at first either. Cecilia looks as if she’s levitating—like a magic act. You’re seeing it through the haze of a memory, so things are left out and things are added in. It’s not as it really happened.”

The film similarly hovers between dream and memory, its surreality embodied in the unearthly, untouchable (and superbly backlit) sisters. “I wanted you to empathize with the girls but not to relate to them,” Coppola says. “Because what they do is so heartbreaking, so inexplicable.” For Lux, the most libidinous and also the most sharply etched of Eugenides’s creations, Coppola cast the preternatural Kirsten Dunst. “Kirsten looks as I imagined Lux: beautiful and all-American, but she has these deep-set eyes where you know so much is going on beneath. There’s a worldliness about her, an all-knowingness.”

The same might be said of Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford and thoroughbred Hollywood kid, who spent much of her childhood not in the canopied byways of suburbia but on her father’s movie sets. The elder Coppola coproduced Suicides, while mom Eleanor was on hand to film the filming (“People loved my mom’s documentary Hearts of Darkness so much, but this is just going to be people standing around in the suburbs, getting along”) and brother Roman was second-unit director. Married last year to fellow auteur Spike Jonze, Coppola plans to take time off before launching a second film. “I’m gonna be a housewife!” she says with a laugh, though it’s clear that, like the wistful boys of Suicides, she hasn’t let the Lisbons go yet. “I’m worried that people might make bad assumptions about the movie from the title,” she says. “This might seem strange, but I find parts of the story uplifting. It’s celebratory of life and how deeply people can affect you, and how little images can get the biggest importance, and never go away.”