Usually I do try to read books before I watch their movie counterparts, but I was unaware of Eugenides’ novel when I saw Sofia Coppola’s film adaptation. Now that I’ve read the novel I can attest to Coppola’s excellent interpretation. As an appreciator of literature, I can recognize the superior quality of the novel, but as a feminist I like the film more. I understand the allegorical aspect of the material, but the story — the novel in particular — paints these girls as victims of the male gaze.
This gaze ultimately seems to destroy the girls. To protect her children from the ugly things in life, Mrs. Lisbon adopts the male gaze, criticizing her daughters’ dress and sheltering them from interacting too much with young men. When Lux comes home late from the prom and Mrs. Lisbon realizes that Lux had allowed herself to become a victim of Trip’s gaze, she keeps them in their house, away from the corruptive influence of males. In their one night at prom, the Lisbon sisters finally had the opportunity to stop being idols and just be young women and they were rejected (Trip left Lux on the football field and Bonnie’s date never called her). As much as the boys pretend to want to know the truth, I think that they prefer their romantic visions of the Lisbons and would not have wanted further contact to ruin their fanciful images. Anyway, as well as being rejected as real people, Mrs. Lisbon prevents them from reaching out to new people, which they might have done after their prom date, by taking them out of school. Perhaps knowing that they could never live up to anyone’s expectations caused them to kill themselves. That bit at the end about “[it] only [mattered] we had loved them” is a little disturbing considering that their “love” might have killed the girls.
Eugenides makes an interesting statement about memory, the importance of memory, and how people rationalize the differences in memory. He also draws an interesting connection between the decay of a suburb and the dwindling life forces of these five young women.