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I once knew a man who reached a point in his life where his best friend was an inanimate object. This man was certainly sane, though he was in the midst of trying to rid himself of a whole panoply of addictions and obsessions/compulsions. In many ways he was quite an average man, with a family, friends, large networks of colleagues, etc. Yet he was also very much alone. He was a man who had always focused on himself so much that all of his relationships were shallow, others simply not being allowed to intrude too far into the scope of his self-absorption. And visiting him, at the nadir of his struggle, I was introduced to a teddy bear that counselors had given him, which he called by his own childhood nickname, and which he looked at with what can only be described as love. What could one do in such a situation but suppress the natural desire to laugh and pretend to take the introduction seriously? Sure, this attachment, however temporary, to a stuffed animal was silly to me, but it was obviously important to him, so why not play along?

In the film Lars and the Real Girl, a whole Northern Wisconsin town decides to play along with a similarly odd relationship when the Lars of the title introduces family, friends, and coworkers to Bianca, an anatomically correct sex doll he's had delivered to the garage where he lives, physically detached from his brother's house, just as he has detached himself emotionally from everyone around him. His sister-in-law, in particular, urges everyone to treat Bianca as if she were real and to take the relationship seriously. The pastor and leaders of the local church that Lars attends agree to go along and the general practitioner who is overseeing the couple's pregnancy accepts Bianca as a patient, treating her "low blood pressure" as an excuse to talk to Lars during their visits.

Over the course of the ensuing weeks and months it is revealed that Lars's mother died giving birth to him and the boys were raised by a father so consumed with grief that he could not provide any emotional support to his sons. Gus, the older brother, fled as soon as he was old enough to get out and feels terrible guilt about leaving Lars behind. Lars is terrified about what could happen when his sister-in-law, Karin, delivers her baby. And not only does he take no pleasure from contact with other humans but their very touch burns him. Significantly, he feels no such sensation when he holds Bianca--though their relationship stays chaste. Indeed, the biography that Lars weaves for Bianca is closely parallel to his own, a virginal, parentless, missionary, whose Brazilian/Danish background makes it difficult for her to communicate.

So respectful are the townfolk of Bianca that she begins to "live a life" of her own. While much of the tension on first viewing derives from a fear that the filmmakers will turn Lars into an object of derision, exactly the opposite happens and in one of the funniest scenes in the film he is unable to play Scrabble with her as he'd planned because she has a prior engagement. Later on, he goes bowling with a coworker, Margo, who has a transparent crush on him, since Bianca is busy anyway , having been elected to the school board.

The high point of his relationship with Bianca is revelatory. Having taken her to the office holiday party, Lars ends up dancing alone, eyes closed, a blissful smile on his face, while others wheel Bianca around the floor. Just in case we've not gotten the message, we can see that the doll is ultimately insignificant, that she is just a vessel into which he has poured himself.

But as Bianca becomes less dependent on him and others seem to be choosing her over him, Lars naturally becomes somewhat resentful. He makes the mistake though of telling Karin that she doesn't really care about him:
Karin: We don't care? We do care!

Lars Lindstrom: No you don't.

Karin: That is just not true! God! Every person in this town bends over backward to make Bianca feel at home. Why do you think she has so many places to go and so much to do? Huh? Huh? Because of you! Because - all these people - love you!

We push her wheelchair. We drive her to work. We drive her home. We wash her. We dress her. We get her up, and put her to bed. We carry her. And she is not petite, Lars. Bianca is a big, big girl!

None of this is easy - for any of us - but we do it... Oh! We do it for you! So don't you dare tell me how we don't care.
Meanwhile, in church one Sunday, the minister's sermon is drawn from 1 Corinthians 13: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." And as the camera shows us Lars, we know that this is the test that lies before him, to put away Bianca and become a man.

To that end he confronts a rather unwilling Gus and asks him about adulthood:
Lars Lindstrom: I was talking to Bianca, and she was saying that in her culture they have these rites of passages and rituals and ceremonies, and, just all kinds of things that, when you do them, go through them, let you know that you're an adult? Doesn't that sound great?

Gus: It does.

Lars Lindstrom: How'd you know?

Gus: How'd I know what?

Lars Lindstrom: That you were a man

Gus: Ahhh. I couldn't tell ya.

Lars Lindstrom: Was it... okay, was it sex?

Gus: Um. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's uh, yeah, yeah it's kind of - it's uh - no. Well, it's kind of sex but it's not uh, you know? I don't know. I don't know. It's - uh - good question, good question.

Lars Lindstrom: Yeah, but I have to know

Gus: [dryer buzzes] Hold that thought.

Gus: [in basement] You know, you should ask Dagmar [the doctor he's been seeing]

Lars Lindstrom: I did ask Dagmar. And she said that I should ask you.

Gus: Okay, you know I can only give you my opinion.

Lars Lindstrom: That's what we want

Gus: Well, it's not like you're one thing or the other, okay? There's still a kid inside but you grow up when you decide to do right, okay, and not what's right for you, what's right for everybody, even when it hurts.

Lars Lindstrom: Okay, like what?

Gus: Like, you know, like, you don't jerk people around, you know, and you don't cheat on your woman, and you take care of your family, you know, and you admit when you're wrong, or you try to, anyways. That's all I can think of, you know - it sound like it's easy and for some reason it's not.
Note that this caring about others and putting them ahead of yourself is pretty much the opposite of what Lars, with a soulmate who is nothing more than another version of himself, has been doing.

In the end, Margo is the driving force behind the process of moving beyond himself and towards others. Having given up on him she'd started dating another coworker and Lars experiences jealousy. A tentative relationship flowers, though Lars warns he could never cheat on Bianca. But then Bianca's previously low-grade "illness" takes a turn for the worse. On a final trip to the nearby lake, Karin and Gus return from walk to find a sobbing Lars waist deep in the water holding Bianca, though the arc of the story would suggest that this is actually Lars's baptism, his putting aside of the childish things and his embarkation into adulthood.

Throughout, the filmmakers have managed to strike just the right tone of Capraesque fantasy. Sure, there is no town and no people like this, but don't we wish there were? Oddly, many critics missed the key association of the film, which is with Don Quixote. Ryan Gosling, who plays Lars, has mentioned the connection in interviews and the book he is reading to Bianca in the movie is that classic. But rather than like of Lars as the noble Don, we might think of screenwriter Nancy Oliver, director Craig Gillespie, and their estimable cast as the holy fools who--for 106 minutes at least--bring us into a better world and show us what life might be like if we all shared the delusion it were possible. I think this what those critics of the film who have complained that it isn't realistic are missing. At the end of Cervantes's book, when Quijote has been "cured," reality reimposed, Don Antonio Moreno mourns:
Ah, sir, may God forgive you for the damage you've done to the whole rest of the world, in trying to cure the wittiest lunatic ever seen! Don't you see, my dear sir, that whatever utility there might be in curing him, it could never match the pleasure he gives with his madness? But I suspect that, despite all your cleverness, sir, you cannot possibly cure a man so far gone in madness, and, if charity did not restrain me, I would say that Don Quijote ought never to be rendered sane, because if he were he would lose, not only his witticisms, but those of Sancho Panza, his squire, any one of which has the power to turn melancholy into happiness.
And Sancho Panza begs him to return to their glorious quest. Lars and the Real Girl is, literally, fabulous, and likewise has the power to turn melancholy into happiness. Reality is small beer by comparison.

(Reviewed:15-Mar-10)

Grade: (A+)

Websites:

See also:


    -INFO: Lars and the Real Girl (2007) (IMDB.com)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Lars and the Real Girl
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Craig Gillespie (IMDB.com)
    -OFFICIAL MOVIE SITE: Lars and the Real Girl
    -PROFILE: Ryan Gosling Tackles a Different Sort of Love Story in Lars and the Real Girl (Rebecca Murray, 10/08/07, About.com)
Gosling didn't have much difficulty figuring out Lars because he was so relatable. “He reminded me of one of my uncles,” revealed Gosling. “He could have been a part of my family or something. I felt like I knew him and everything. It was a really great experience for me because a lot of the other things I’ve done, I’ve been investigating the self-destructive part of my nature. And this was the first time I really explored…you know, because Lars is kind of like a Don Quixote-esque character. He is the power of belief and whatever he believes is true. When Quixote goes into the courtyard of the castle and he’s talking to the prostitutes, he thinks they are royalty. And for that moment that he thinks they are royalty, they think they are, too. They play along, and for that moment it becomes true. And because he’s so positive, because he’s so good, and there is not a self-destructive part of his nature, he has a choice between going down a road that would end in a really bleak way, or he takes this road. Every chance he gets, when it could get dark, he goes for the light. And that’s his nature."

    -PROFILE: What would his mother say?: Ryan Gosling has an Oscar-nominated talent for playing killers, sociopaths and other damaged people. He tells Matt Mueller why he is very happy to be a Hollywood misfit (Matt Mueller, 3/14/08, The Guardian)
    -PROFILE: Ryan Gosling: meet the star of 'Lars and the Real Girl' (Will Lawrence, 09 Mar 2008, Daily Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: 2D Love and Lars and the Real Girl: The Japanese phenomenon reveals a right human desire gone askew. (Lisa Graham McMinn, Her.meneutics)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: God is among us and his name is Bianca: Examining Lars and the Real Girl (2007) (Rachel Heck, Indianapolis Christian Entertainment Examiner)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Lars and the Real Girl (Imdb.com)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Lars and the Real Girl (Metacritic)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Peter T. Chattaway, Christianity Today)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Kenneth Turan, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Hollywood Jesus)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (MANOHLA DARGIS, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (James Berardinelli, Reel Views)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Meghan Keane, NY Sun)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Kathleen Richardson, Culture Wars)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Joe Queenan, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Philip French, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Peter Rainer, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Joe Morgenstern, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Richard von Busack, MetroActive)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Mick LaSalle, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Robert Hanks, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Sherry Huang, BeliefNet)
    -REVIEW: of Lars and the Real Girl (Harry Forbes, Catholic News Service)

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