I was leery about watching Lars and the Real Girl. From the little bit I knew about the film, it appeared strange, which could be good, and awkward, which, for my particular personality, is bad. It is a film about a man who thinks a sex doll is his girlfriend (not private lover, but public girlfriend). Enter everyone else stage right. How much more awkward could it get?
However, it is not really a film about a man who thinks a sex doll is his girlfriend; it is really a film about how a community loves and supports this man at a time when he needs it most. I was thoroughly surprised and satisfied at the healthy journey this film took me on, and found that my worries regarding awkwardness were quite needless.
Jumping right to the point, the writer conveys in a feature on the DVD that the film is about what could happen if a community would let a “mentally ill” person be himself. In other words, it’s about what could happen if the “illness” diagnosis is dropped and the person is treated with love and respect like a human. This film presents that “what if” beautifully.
In this story Lars is the person with delusions. At first, the viewer just learns that Lars is reclusive and anti-social. Then, nearly out of the blue, Lars introduces his not-quite-human romantic interest, Bianca, and he is oblivious to the not-quite-human part of the equation. Much further into the film, some light is shed on some of the issues with which Lars is dealing, although (and I love this part) his delusions are never defined. Lars then begins a growth process that is not brought about because of Bianca, but because of everyone else’s reaction to Bianca.
Over the course of the film, for me there are three main gifts that Lars receives: acceptance from his brother Gus, grace from his doctor, and love from the townsfolk. Those may sound similar, and they are related, but each one had its own special flavor.
Acceptance from Gus was not quick in coming. Gus’s initial reactions, while comical at certain moments, did not (thankfully) go the direction of basic comedy writing in America: satirical and insulting. Gus was frustrated and worried, but he was also real and believable. He chose to help his brother, he acted on his choice, and slowly but surely his heart came around. By the end of the film, his caring interactions with his brother are much more natural and the guidance he offers Lars, while not necessarily inspired, is at least genuine and pure.
The family physician, Dr. Dagmar, is an angel. She does not try to force Lars to change. Instead she tries to understand him, and in doing so, grants him the grace to open up. Grace is what starts him down the path toward healing. Dagmar’s brave decision to offer Lars grace is what also opens the door for the entire community to have a chance to show love to Lars. The movie is worth watching just to view this grace being offered.
On the community level, coworkers, church members, and others go out on a limb and support Lars where he is. They show a picture of love in action that we often only talk about. Not only do they play along that Bianca is real, they make her contribution to society real. One cannot help but smile when Bianca, in all practicality, lands multiple part-time jobs.
There are other key elements to this film too, such as Gus’s wife Karin being the communicator who ties everything together and coworker Margo being the seed for a promising conventional relationship, but the gifts I’ve listed are what struck me most.
This film is definitely worth seeing. The love, grace, and sense of community are a feast for the heart. The acting is all that could be asked for and the writing is a step above most scripts. In more than one place the true beauty of the people brought tears to my eyes. It still does.
Bob Thayne writes from Portland, OR where he is an engineer.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/820