The Virgin Suicides
***.2 GM
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Josh Hartnett, Michael Pare, Danny DeVito


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This is a creepy flick, and I'm still not exactly sure how I feel about it.

It takes the relatively used-up premise of rich girls with oppressive parents offing themselves to escape their miserable lives and puts enough interesting new aspects into it to make things a bit more engrossing and different. Kathleen Turner is the nasty old mother, James Woods is the whipped and uncertain father, and Kirsten Dunst is one of the five young teenaged girls that live under their supervision. When the youngest one attempts suicide, it starts a lot of speculation in the upscale Michigan town, and when she tries again and succeeds, it starts a somewhat morbid fixation among the four boys that hang out across the street from them that lasts for decades after the rest of them follow suit.

It's an unnerving story, the way it's told, in much more human terms than your standard "Girl Hero, Mother Wicked" version of this plotline. The mom is nasty, but it's not out of malevolence - it's just that she's devoutly religious and extremely wary of any outside influences corrupting her daughters, and she naturally takes it too far. But when her first child tries to kill herself, Mom actually tries to relent, and both parents show the awkward inability to make their attempts to normalize their daughters' lives really succeed, and Dad starts to go a little nuts under the pressure to keep things together. When they relax enough to allow a group field trip to a homecoming dance, and Lux (Dunst) stays out until the next morning as a seduction victim of school heartthrob Trip (Josh Hartnett, who grows up to become Eddie from "Eddie and the Cruisers," oddly enough), the girls find themselves in a virtual prison, not allowed to leave their house after mom flips her lid.

It's sort of a ghost story, but they're only haunting the memories of these guys who studied the scraps from these girls' lives intently, apparently coming up with ways to rescue them from their living hell, only to be inexplicably lured over to the scene of their mass suicide once they finally decide to call it an existence. That, I assume, is the big mystery they keep trying to solve - the boys had established a communication with them and were willing to do anything for them, were ready to take them anywhere, free them from their prison, but they opted to off themselves instead. Perhaps they realized that a carload of future Ivy Leaguers and debutantes isn't gonna get very far when their rich parents want them found. Perhaps none of them thought they could handle a few more years of this kind of isolation (although one of them was 17 and could leave the house legally on her next birthday... wonder why SHE did it). Perhaps they were just self-important rich kids who thought their considerable problems were the most insurmountable obstacles in the universe and it was impossible to save them. I don't know, but I suppose if I'm 15 years old and the group of girls across the street that my friends and I are all in love with decide to kill themselves at once, I can see that screwing up my mind forever.

There's a lot of haunting imagery in the film, and the girls strike a strange balance between seeming like everyday teens and being ethereal spirit-like beings floating around the lives of the people in this town, always lit like angels, illustrating how they were viewed by the people around them. The more I think about this, the more creepy and tragic the story feels, but I was never completely taken into the film. The music was really good, and it came off a bit like a nightmare version of "The Wonder Years," and maybe that was my problem. I can't put my finger on it, and I may be mulling this over for a while.

These are genuinely nice girls that are being unconsciously victimized by their own parents, being denied everything they need to experience in order to grow up, even the spirit of youthful rebellion, and they don't see an end in sight. Perhaps the only way they figure they can actually get past their parents to make any sort of mark on the world is by their own eerie mass suicide that makes the news reports and becomes local legend. Questions like this are what the boys are pondering for the rest of their lives, and this is a movie that, if one were so inclined, could also be debated that way. I'm just not really so inclined.

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