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The Symphony of Gender: How ‘The Virgin Suicides’ Challenges the Viewing Lens through Its Soundtrack

The magic of cinema lies not just in its visual storytelling, but also in its ability to weave narratives through music. In the profound tale of the Lisbon sisters, as chronicled in The Virgin Suicides, we traverse a landscape shaped by the yearning gaze of neighborhood boys and a hauntingly ethereal soundscape. The film, along with Jeffrey Eugenides’ original 1993 novel, presents a layered auditory tapestry that goes beyond mere background sound, actively interrogating the way we, as an audience, perceive and understand these enigmatic teenage girls.

One might ponder whether the soundtrack of The Virgin Suicides serves as a window into the private realms of the Lisbon sisters, or does it merely echo the distorted visions of the boys who watch them so intently? The concept of the male gaze, famously dissected by film theorist Laura Mulvey, explores the interplay of power, perspective, and gender—a dynamic that saturates the boys’ narration and is intimately linked to music. Various critics argue whether music in film confirms traditional gender roles or, conversely, empowers the feminine voice. Caryn Flinn’s words in Strains of Utopia (1992) question the symbolic association of music with femininity, warning against its potential to overshadow women’s voices in favor of amplifying male narratives.

In exploring the intersection of music, gender, and storytelling, The Virgin Suicides cleverly manipulates its soundtrack, spanning from the fictional tunes referenced in Eugenides’ text to the nostalgic 1970s backdrop of the film’s setting, amplified by Air’s original compositions. This sonic world not only serves the narrative but also opens a dialogue on gender expression.

The Feminine Melody: Heart and Air in Gender Narration

The use of Heart’s iconic track ‘Magic Man’ marks the cinematic entrance of Trip Fontaine, exuding teenage desire and rebellion. In contrast to the boys’ infatuation, Ann Wilson’s account of growing up reflects a similar restriction experienced by the Lisbon girls, resonating with their sheltered existence. Sofia Coppola subtly subverts expectations by framing Trip as an object to be desired, much like the Lisbon sisters are typically seen.

The narrative woven by Eugenides employs a rich lexicon of musical elements, from Pink Floyd to Yes, further painting Trip as someone who revels in a male-dominated soundscape. Meanwhile, Coppola uses a Heart song yet again as Lux Lisbon expresses her sexuality in a passionate encounter, highlighting her control and inner fire.

The soundtrack also explores different facets of the sisters’ personalities, such as their reaction to being forced to destroy their beloved rock records, signaling their resistance to conformity and the loss of personal identity. Throughout the film, various songs serve as a chorus for the voiceless girls or reinforce the dreamlike, almost ethereal perception the boys have of them, blurring lines between love and fantasy.

Air’s original score imbues the film with an auditory dimension that intertwines with the boys’ perspectives, perhaps reinforcing their view rather than revealing an objective reality. Despite its lack of lyrics, ‘Playground Love’ exemplifies how the film’s music amplifies this subjective gaze while underlining the undercurrent of distress shared by both the boys and the Lisbon sisters.

Intersecting Harmonies: Vinyl as a Medium of Dialogue

A poignant moment in both novel and film is the telephone call between the boys and the Lisbon sisters, where music becomes their primary mode of communication. This sequence offers the sisters a voice through the records they play, articulating their emotions and truths otherwise stifled by the boys’ overbearing narrative.

The boys’ misunderstanding of the sisters’ song choices highlights their persistent misinterpretation of the girls’ intentions. Despite obvious lyrical cues within the music, the boys remain oblivious to the sisters’ internal struggle and ultimate desire to break free from their dominance and be understood on their own terms.

By revealing more than subverting the male gaze, Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides underscores the nuanced intersections of memory, gender, and music. The film’s enduring legacy is not only evident in its distinct visual flair but also in how its soundtrack continues to shape narratives about femininity and youth. A recent homage by Pom Pom Squad, with their song ‘LUX’, underscores the film’s impact on contemporary storytelling and the exploration of gender dynamics.


For a deeper understanding of the themes in The Virgin Suicides, explore the insightful analysis by scholars like Anna Backman Rogers and others. Delve into the text of Strains of Utopia by Caryn Flinn, or peruse essays like Stephanie McKnight’s discussions on the film’s soundscapes. Film scholar Masafumi Monden’s work and Robyn Stilwell’s examination of music’s role in cinematic storytelling provide further academic enrichment on this complex topic.

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