Differences between the book and the movie

In 1999 Sophia Coppola made his directorial debut with Virgin suicidea film adaptation of the novel of the same name, now 30 years old, by Jeffrey Eugenides. Coppola has said that reading the novel helped inspire her to become a director, after seeing and understanding how such a unique story should be portrayed on the big screen.

Eugenides’ novel and Coppola’s adaptation are both narrated by neighborhood boys, now older, recalling the life and death of the Lisbon sisters, who all took their own lives within a year of each other. As the narrator or narrators narrate the events leading up to the suicides (the novel is told in the first person plural, while the film’s narrator is in the first person singular), they put the many pieces and supposed clues together in an attempt to not only figure out why the girls did what they they did, but also to learn more about them as people.


Coppola’s film has since reached cult classic status. It’s impressive how extensive the adaptation is while remaining true to the source material, how much of the dialogue is used verbatim from the novel. However, there are some key events and characteristics of Eugenides’ haunting novel that were left out of the film. These are the three biggest differences between the film and the novel.

The timing of the girls’ suicide is different in the book and the film

“She slept late, talked little and took six showers a day.” The series of events depicted in the film is almost exactly the same as in the book. However, one of the biggest differences between the two is the ending. In the movie, Lux (Kirsten Dunst), Bonnie (Chelsea Swain), Mary (AJ Cook), and Therese Lisbon (Leslie Hayman) is found dead in their home a year after their youngest sister Cecilia (Hanna R. Hall) took his own life. This is a different twist than what Eugenides wrote in the 1993 novel. When the paramedics arrive at the four sisters, they discover that 16-year-old Mary has actually survived and stayed in the hospital before returning home to her parents. “It was a small bench… The plaque bore the simple inscription ‘IN MEMORY OF THE LISBON GIRLS, THIS COMMUNITY’. Mary was of course still alive at this time, but the plaque did not acknowledge that fact.”

Continuing in the novel, Mary takes her own life in the Lisbon home a month later, the morning after the poorly themed “suffocation” debutante party held in the neighborhood, an event recounted in the film. When the paramedics returned to Lisbon’s home for the fifth and final time, Eugenides writes, they were in no rush. While the point got across in the film without this, it’s exciting to think how different the film would have been if it had briefly followed a sister from Lisbon in her empty home that had been put up for sale.

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Lux is taken to hospital in the book but not the film

“They carried the stretcher just as we expected, but when the porch light came on, we weren’t prepared for what we saw: Lux Lisbon, sitting up, very much alive.” A little more than halfway through the book, around the time 14-year-old Lux ​​had been seen with various men and boys on the roof of her house, the neighborhood saw the same EMS truck stop by the Lisbon house for the third time. Everyone assumed the worst, but instead Lux ​​is seen being taken out of the house, screaming in pain. It is falsely spread that she had a ruptured appendix. When she gets to the hospital, it’s revealed that it was all a trick to get out of the house after realizing she hadn’t had her period in over a month.

The sisters from Lisbon together around a tree in The Virgin Suicides.

“We never understood why Lux went to the hospital instead of Planned Parenthood, but most agreed that she was telling the truth and that in the end she couldn’t find another way to see a doctor.” While this scene may not have added to what was already present in the film, this moment emphasized how serious the situation at Lisbon House really was. The narrators can only assume that the sisters are not getting proper food after seeing their frail appearance, and it is also clear from the film that they were all pulled out of the school and kept inside all the time. In the novel, Lux, who was most likely uncomfortable and unable to seek help from her parents, knew that the only solution to her problem was to go to the doctor, no matter what the cost.

It’s also a moment that reiterates how these neighbors, especially the boys, didn’t actually want to put themselves in the girls’ shoes. Instead, they just continued to wish and idealize them from afar instead of really unpacking the many reasons why Lux couldn’t have gone to Planned Parenthood. Readers later learn that while she was not pregnant, she tested positive for HPV. The doctor also agreed to administer these tests to Lux, a minor, without notifying her parents.

Coppola left the day of mourning and the school therapist out of the film

“Mr. Pulff… remembered a few of Mrs. Woodhouse’s words that day. ‘Grief is natural,’ she said. ‘Overcoming it is a matter of choice.'” I remember it because I later used it for a diet product: “Eating is natural. To put on is your choice.” While the film briefly covers the school’s attempt to start a discussion about Cecilia’s suicide, Coppola decides to leave out a particular school event called the day of mourning. On one day of the school year, without warning, the teachers keep the students in their homerooms and are responsible for starting a sensitive discussion in the way they see fit.

The sisters from Lisbon, in different classrooms, refuse to participate and ultimately find each other in the girls’ bathroom as they await the end of the day of mourning in silence. This moment in the book emphasizes the idea that many people in the small town seem concerned with stopping the “spread” of suicide as opposed to feeling concerned about the Lisbon girls themselves. No one on the faculty discusses the Day of Mourning directly with Mr. Lisbon (James Wood) either, who is himself a teacher at the school.

Image via Paramount Pictures

After the day of mourning, the school brings in a psychological counselor named Miss Lynn Kilsem. While her social worker training is later found to be fake, four of the sisters from Lisbon are seen frequenting her office. “The window was sometimes open and both Lux and Miss Kilsem went against the rules, otherwise the girls would have raided the candy dish and strewn Miss Kilsem’s desk with tissue paper.” While the readers and narrators will never be sure if the girls really confided in Miss Kilsem, it is noted that they seemed more present and attentive at school. On the other hand, the film does not attribute a specific event to their better mood, except potentially when Trip Fontaine (Josh Harnett) and his friends ask them to the homecoming dance, which will ultimately be the end of their already limited freedom.

It is important to note that Coppola proved his great understanding of the source material through his extremely complex and thought-provoking adaptation. While not including more memorable atmospheric elements in the book, such as the dreaded fishing fly season, the tone of small-town suffocation was still achieved. However, it is interesting to think about what might have been when it comes to the prominent scenes from Eugenides’ novel that were not included in the film.

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