The Varying Depictions of Suburbia in Film & Television
The Virgin Suicides
The girls committed suicide partially out of disillusionment and rebellion, but, above all, because they could. The neighborhood boys’ obsession with them – imagining them in far away places, attempting to put the pieces together – reflects suburban boredom at its most desperate and innocent; the desire to escape the monotony of Suburbia is so strong that it consumes the boys:
“In the end we had pieces of the puzzle, but no matter how we put them together, gaps remained. Oddly shaped emptiness mapped by what surrounded them, like countries we couldn’t name. What lingered after them was not life, but the most trivial list of mundane facts. A clock ticking on the wall, a room dim at noon, the outrageousness of a human being thinking only of herself.”
“So much has been said about the girls over the years. But we have never found an answer. It didn’t matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only that we had loved them… and that they hadn’t heard us calling… still do not hear us calling them from out of those rooms… where they went to be alone for all time…a nd where we will never find the pieces to put them back together.”
The boys hold onto the idea of the girls as long as time will allow until the spell of Suburbia consumes them, and, eventually, the girls, and the failures and destruction of the nuclear family that that they represent, fade from their memories.
The OA co-creator and star Brit Marling shared her thoughts on her desire to bring back the genuine portrayal of Suburbia in film and television with THR:
“We live in a time that’s really complex and really scary and the way we’ve protected ourselves against that terror is by putting on a cloak of irony and cool and cynicism, and those things are effective. I think it’s hard to let too much of it in. But there’s something about this story for whatever reason, the way that it came into the world and all the people who worked on it to make it, it gave us all permission to be unguarded for a moment and raw and the opposite of cynical, and I feel like that’s something that I can really stand behind.”
The suburbs are a place of abuse, letdown, and and anxiety. But also of respite.
“Those are the kind of stories I feel like I am also seeking out. I’m tired of the view of the suburbs where it’s tongue-in-cheek and condescending and belittling to those spaces. I grew up in those spaces! Real things happen in the Costco and the suburban tract housing development. I think for us it was about going to those spaces and finding out what is heartbreaking and sometimes metaphysical and sometimes horrifying and sometimes beautiful and just rendering that.”
In The OA, the suburbs are a place of abuse, letdown, and and anxiety. But also of respite. Of abandoned buildings that illicit comfort in the midst of isolation. Of secret meeting spots. Of healing. Wounds that the Suburbia has caused itself and society outside of itself.
On one hand, we have an aging woman searching for feeling among her dull surroundings; The bored housewife looking for a shred of excitement to escape from her disappointing life. Alas, as aforementioned, many feel as though Suburbia is a self-refuting ideal. One that keeps its residents from moving forward, upward, and breaking free of its suburban straps. Suburbia has everything one needs, so why ever leave?
On the other hand, we have a young, naive, ambitious, idealistic young man, unshackled by years of suburban living and consumer complacency, positive he can make a difference in this world, outside his suburban bubble of which he knows next to nothing about.
Stranger Things is nostalgia on cocaine. It portrays a complexity in each Suburban household not often seen on screen. Rather than sameness, it conveys diversity and dysfunction relatable beyond suburban or suburban-raised viewers. Audiences of all backgrounds can enjoy Stranger Things, without having to have particular nostalgia for Suburbia, as the aforementioned covers all things ‘80s – from Dungeons and Dragons, to shopping malls, to Back to the Future, to New Coke.
However, secret meetings in basements and attics, staying up late and sneaking out at night, communicating secret code through walkie talkies, riding bicycles through the quiet neighborhoods of Hawkins, Indiana, an unassuming suburb ideal for a moral panic on par of the satanic panic era of that time period.