Contemplating in a dream-like room: The Virgin Suicides and the aesthetic imagination of girlhood

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Sofia Coppola’s film The Virgin Suicides (1999) can be viewed as visualizing the (re)negotiation process of the twinned aspects of girlish ‘autonomy’ and ‘restriction’. Although the film’s references to more established images of girlhood are observable, its vague, narrative neutrality, supported by cinematic aesthetics with a dreamy and melancholic effect, leaves their meanings largely unexplained. Connected to our contemporary ideas about adolescence, femininity is generally linked to either pathological fragility or emphasized sexual assertiveness. I question the legitimacy of these binaries and instead read The Virgin Suicides as a depiction of female complexity where the subtle complexity of the heroines contradicts these stereotypes. Instead of situating on either polar of extreme assertiveness and fragility, Coppola presents her conception of adolescent girls as floating between these two. The film’s ethereal and maidenly aesthetics conveyed through the visual qualities of the Lisbon Sisters, including the dresses they wear, effectively layer the girls’ sense of autonomy and sexual maturity, signifying the negotiation of idealizing, suppressing and empowering adolescent girls. The tragic fate of the girls, on the other hand, limits the film’s capacity to offer an alternative to the monolithic idea of adolescent ‘girlhood’ and how it is visualized in our contemporary culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-158
JournalFilm, Fashion and Consumption
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2013
Externally publishedYes


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