Film

Virgin (2003)

Kristen Kidder

Jessie's belief that she might be special, chosen for this important role, changes her.


Virgin

Director: Deborah Kampmeier
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Robin Wright Penn, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Gachet
MPAA rating: Not rated
Studio: Artistic License
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2004-09-03 (Limited release)

Seventeen-year-old Jessie Reynolds (Elisabeth Moss) doesn't want to be the mother of Christ. But that's who she thinks she is, after finding herself pregnant during her senior year of high school. Her conservative Baptist family does not react well to the news, demanding that she give the child up for adoption. Her unidentified small town community is similarly disapproving, its narrow-minded inhabitants cautionary tale caricatures. They repeatedly torment Jessie in church each Sunday, trying to make her name the child's father and confess to her obvious sins.

Jessie is not actually the conduit for Jesus' second coming. She was instead impregnated during a school dance, raped by her crush while drinking in the woods behind the parking lot. Though her memory of the event is obliterated by drugs and alcohol, Jessie's belief that she might be special, chosen for this important role, changes her. She becomes increasingly self-aware, more sure of her own voice.

With Virgin, the first-time writer-director Deborah Kampmeier looks into life as an adolescent girl, and in so doing, illuminates interior lives of women of all ages. Each woman here is in some way fragmented at the hands of the men in their lives: Jessie's mother (Robin Wright Penn) submits wholly to her husband's (Peter Gerety) will, cowed by his thundering voice (he's the local preacher) and resigned to his frequent absences.

The same can be said for her sister Katie (Stephanie Gatchet), who has so internalized the misogynistic teachings of her religion that she steadfastly refuses to believe that God could be female. As if to underline this point, Jessie encounters Frances (Daphne Rubin-Vega) while on her paper route. Ensnared in a cycle of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her partner, Frances relies on Jessie's friendship for brief reprieves from her broken life.

Shot entirely with a digital video camera, in 21 days on a tiny budget, Virgin is an obvious labor of love, quite unlike mainstream depictions of female adolescence, that is, romantic comedies starring Hilary Duff. (According to press materials, the director engaged in tireless fundraising, and Robin Wright Penn's support was crucial in getting the film made.) Indeed, at times, Kampmeier's film is hard to watch. Jessie's story is book-ended by rape scenes. Twice the audience watches as young men reach under Jessie's clothes, remove her perfectly white underwear, and enter her without consent. The first violation results in her pregnancy, and the second -- performed by a gang of neighborhood thugs looking to "teach her a lesson" -- leads to a dreadful outcome.

As well, while Jessie's internal transformation is inspiring, it is also problematic. Her impending motherhood is here the catalyst for newfound courage, a very real but entirely hegemonic narrative. This young woman's transformation is too significant, too metaphorical, to be a credited only to her sense of maternal responsibility.

Virgin's potential subversion lies in its demonstration of the ways U.S> ideals and expectations are literally inscribed on the body of young women. Yet the film is ultimately hopeful. Jessie survives her small-town torment and her self-confidence ultimately strengthens the women around her. By the film's conclusion, Katie's mind opens enough for her to consider the idea that her sister may be a Christ figure, that the child that she is carrying may in fact be holy. The girls' mother begins to gain some independence from their domineering father, and Frances leaves her abusive relationship. In the final scene, Jessie submerses herself in a pool of water, as if in baptism. Surrounded by dozens of naked followers (souls reborn), her daughter in her arms, she is the center of an image that inspires sympathy for her and the community she's created.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.