The Color of The Virgin Suicides
Open on a bright summers day. The calm and aging voice of a narrator begins to tell the story of five sisters who killed themselves decades ago. The Lisbon girls. Quaint neighborhoods and bright green tennis courts color the first half of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, an American film that uses color in a very French way.
Lux Lisbon is the confident reserved-girl fantasy young boys dream of. Her nature is exaggerated, but the influences on her character are based in reality. In most scenes Lux is shown in brilliant white alongside her equally beautiful sisters, conforming to the standards of her rigid mother. When the boys who ogle over them are shown the screen is filled with all kinds of objects and tones, but the girls are always white. Angels through and through, but like the baggy homecoming dresses Mrs. Lisbon stitches together for the girls, they are manufactured. Thus creates a contrast between the doomed fate of the girls and their surroundings, which are cheery and harmless much like the girls’s father. Their environment is doing them the worst, but it is the last place most adults would look while every kid at school seems to have a basic understanding of the Lisbon girls’s stifled home lives. The color of their household just doesn’t support their actions.
One of the most beautiful frames from The Virgin Suicides has Lux lying alone on the school football field, hair disheveled and eyes closed. It is the first time Lux is truly alone without the safety of her sisters or family rules. Her refusal to follow these lead her to a low place, signified by the color blue. It looks like a filter was placed over the camera for the shot, and it matches exactly with Lux’s state. She has been brought up only to be let down and must face the consequences, but not before lying just another moment in the pre-sunrise gloom.
At the end of the film, airborne algae is introduced to explain the horrid smell that plagues the town, coloring each shot a dark shade of green. The rot of the Lisbon girls is taking hold, represented in visual form. The boys try to move on but live in a constant state of puzzlement that soils their ability to meet other girls. The smell literally causes people to throw up, which would be one thing if told, but the deep forrest green visualizes it. Despair and hopelessness take over after the girls, and the film doesn’t let you forget it. Although we didn’t experience the events ourselves, the filmmakers place us at the center of every situation with blue sadness, green doom, and fabricated white, telling a story of emotional neglect and painful loneliness solely through color.