Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Rated: PG-13
Length: 106 minutes
Grade: AAA+A+=A+
Budget: $12 million
Box Office: $6 million US, $2.5 million Intl, $ million DVD

Directed by: Craig Gillespie, whose only other work was directing Mr. Woodcock.
Written by: Nancy Oliver, who wrote a few episodes of Six Feet Under.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner, Ned Beatty, and Patricia Clarkson.

Lars is a socially inept office worker who one day orders a life-size doll through the mail and begins to treat her like a real person. This forces his brother and his brother’s pregnant wife and, indeed, the whole town to decide how to respond.

Entertainment Value: A
Okay, I recognize that not everyone is going to love this movie the way I did. In fact, every time I recommend it, I have to tell some people that I don’t know for sure if they’ll love it. It’s a very quiet movie, but it’s brilliance is in its subtlety. The actors in the commentaries admitted that they felt like the perfect gem had been delivered to them and their job was to not mess it up. Indeed. I’m disappointed by the box office, but not surprised by it.

Superficial Content: A
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A, Violence A, Language B+, Illegality A
Okay. Here’s the thing. You would think that a movie about a man’s fantasy relationship with an anatomically correct life-size doll would be weird and creepy in a sexual way. It absolutely isn’t, and that expectation is the reason this movie is PG-13 instead of PG or even G, which is almost could be. This says more about the viewers than it says about the movie. There is only the occasional hint of sexuality here, and if the movie hadn’t been about a doll like it is, it would surely never have been PG-13. Even the language is extremely mild.

Significant Content: A+
My original love of this movie began when I started considering all the amazing insights it was conveying about the use of pornography in our culture when compared with the completely non-pornographic but fantasy relationship Lars was having on the screen. Then, when I started to see the portrayals of religion, compassion, indulgence, love, and forbearance, I was blown away. All I can tell you is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more powerful display of the sort of Christian love we’re supposed to extend to other people in their weakness than I saw here. And they’re all church people! Wise pastors, wise churchwomen, wise small town doctors…so refreshing in a movie not touted for its religiosity at all and which might even strike some as being anti-religious at first. There’s even one scene where manhood gets defined, not as having sex, but as choosing to do right when you don’t want to.

Artistic/Thought Value: A+
This is art in every sense of the word. The pacing, the music, the subtlety, but most of all the offering of a wildly rich discussion subject. The key theme throughout is that, though the first reaction you have to both Lars and his fantasy is to be critical and judgmental, there is a better, deeper, wiser, more loving response…both to Lars and to anyone who seems a bit odd to you at first. Just consider, as one example, that in one scene a pregnant woman tackles Lars in the driveway to try to force him to come “enjoy” dinner with her and his brother. The irony is delicious.

Discussion Questions:
~In what way would you describe Karin’s love as relentless? Is it intrusive, and hence selfish, or is it truly appreciative of Lars?
~Give some examples of love shown in this movie. What makes them so loving? Does it matter what people’s first reactions are if they subsequently do the excellent thing? Consider what the women do toward the end when they bring food to Lars. How valuable is simply sitting with someone who is in pain?
~Much of this movie could be seen as an inversion of pornography. Though the girl is tangible and fake, the relationship is deep, respectful, and meaningful. Why do people who think that pornography is normal find this situation so strange? Does the potential healthiness of Lars’s emotional connection with Bianca say something about the derangement of pornographic fantasy? Compare and contrast his relationship with the use of pornography. Are porn users hypocrites for making fun of him? Is Bianca a sex object to Lars? Compare and contrast this relationship with the reading of romance novels.
~Is Bianca a person? What does it mean to be a person?
~Are people like Lars socially inept or just honest enough to not be polite? If you hadn’t learned to put on an act for people, would you ever behave the way Lars does? If we were more like him, would people be forced to be more real with us? Is this the sort of childlikeness that Jesus is talking about us emulating?
~Why is the distinction between real and unreal so important?
~An essential theme of this movie is the virtue of catering to and condescending to take seriously the foibles and frailties of other people to the point that they actually become our own burdens. Is this Biblical? Can you think of some examples in your own life where you’ve resisted doing this and where you might try harder with someone?
~Is this a fairy tale? Explain your answer.
~Why is Lars so reluctant to have a relationship with a real woman? Is he afraid of making another woman die in childbirth? Why does he create a relationship with Bianca?
~In what ways does this movie demonstrate real Christian community?
~Is our affinity for movies, fiction, and particular characters any less odd than Lars’s relationship with Bianca? Consider someone who puts a Tinkerbell sticker on her car or wears a Tigger sweatshirt.
~How should we treat people with benign delusions? Is anything really sacrificed in treating Bianca as real? Is anything gained?
~What do you think of children having imaginary friends?
~Who is portrayed more favorably here, the psychiatrist or the pastor? Are they at odds at all? Is this movie meant to represent an ideal of coexistence between religion and science?

Overall Grade: A+
Uplifting, pro-Christian, and genius in it’s subtlety. I know not everyone will recognize it as I did, but I stand by my view emphatically. This movie is like a best friend I just discovered.

1 comment:

Kerri said...

I am so glad that you reviewed this movie, because otherwise I probably would never have seen it. I loved every minute of the movie. I completely agree with your comments, especially about the portrayal of love by the members of Lars' church and community.

One moment in the movie really stuck out to me. At Bianca's funeral, the pastor commented that they had all learned something from Bianca. I think this situation with Bianca and Lars really brought out the best in the people of the town. There is also a really powerful scene where Karin is yelling at Lars and telling him that they have all reached out and cared for Bianca because they love HIM. It is a really beautiful moment.

I am so grateful that I got to see this movie, and it really blessed me. There are a lot of people who are hurting in this world, and who act out of their pain and fear. We won't know the root of a person's behavior, however, if we don't take time to love that person in their situation. The people in the town could have written Lars off as crazy, but if they had done that, he never would have received healing.

Thanks again!!