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Movie Review: Lars and the Real Girl

January 12, 2008

MrsDoF and I went to the historic Normal Theater this evening to see the comedy movie Lars and the Real Girl (not yet released on DVD).  I am hard-pressed to think of another movie as original as this one.

Lars (played by Ryan Gosling) is a 27-year-old man who lives in his brother’s garage.  He holds down a job, is kind to others, and though he is extremely shy, people do like him.  But they don’t know that he is so badly wounded inside that even the touch of another person, however kind or gentle, causes him pain.  He wears multiple layers of clothing for protection.  He cannot hug.  It is difficult for him even to shake hands or look another person in the eye.

When a porn-addicted office-mate shows Lars a website that sells unusually realistic sex dolls, he secretly orders one.  But not for the usual purpose.  Instead, Lars invests in the lifeless mannequin an emotional reality as his new friend from Brazil.  Her name is “Bianca”.  Her mother died when she was born – just like Lars.  She is very religious, like Lars.  She cannot walk and does not speak much English. 

His brother (Paul Schneider) and sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer) are horrified to learn that he actually believes she is alive.  In the months that follow, they and all their friends, and the entire rural community, receive a crash course in delusional mental illnesses, and in compassion.  The psychiatrist (Patricia Clarkson)  advises Lars’ brother and sister-in-law to play along with his delusion, so he can work out what he needs to.  His co-workers, and the rest of his church community also pitch in, reluctantly at first, when it is made clear to them that this may be the only path Lars can take out of his suffering.

And his brother learns that he holds the key to Lars’ pain.

It is a Christian theme that redemption is possible by sharing in the suffering of others.  I have seen this play out in actual rural churches, and it does in Lars’ church.  Their kindness, and that of the community, is the only part of the story that requires any suspension of disbelief, but the effort does not go unrewarded. 

Every movie asks a somewhat improbable question, such as “What if an empire and the rebellion against it spanned a galaxy?”  The improbable question for Lars might be; “What if people had as much compassion for the mentally ill as they do for the physically ill?”  The movie is billed as a comedy, and the audience laughed a lot.  But I didn’t, and when Lars is convinced that Bianca is dying, and he baptizes her, no one else in the theater did either.

There were a thousand ways for this movie to have gone wrong, but it didn’t.  Instead it is original and funny and touching.  So you needn’t look for it at the Oscars – they just skip over movies like this in favor of something with more explosions.  See it if you get the chance. 


  • Movie Website

  • Yes it’s true, I’m a godless heathen.  But from various life experiences, I can speak reasonably fluent ‘Christian’.
  • Other themes in the movie:  Sometimes honesty is not the best policy, Forgiveness, ‘Let he who is without sin…’, Definition of manhood, and more.
Categories: Movies, Reviews
  1. james old guy
    January 13, 2008 at 12:11 | #1

    If people don’t have faith in something whatever that is they don’t have much reason to exist.

  2. January 13, 2008 at 13:58 | #2

    The idea that faith is a virtue, or is necessary to meaning in life, is accepted as true in our culture.  But it may not be universally true.  Of course if you define faith broadly enough, anyone can be said to have faith.

  3. james old guy
    January 14, 2008 at 07:46 | #3

    Who ever said faith is a virtue?

  4. January 14, 2008 at 08:02 | #4

    You didn’t, you just said it was necessary to meaning in life.  Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Barack Obama, George Bush, and pretty much everyone in our culture say it’s a virtue.  Those of us who suspect it may be a sign of irrationality are in the minority.

    I define faith narrowly as a belief in something which is not falsifiable.  Some define it more broadly.

  5. Lucas
    January 15, 2008 at 05:57 | #5

    Oh yeah, well, I’ll bet you subscribe to the ideas of causation and induction, which Hume showed to be non-falsifiable.  Oh snap!  Therefore, you are just as irrational as all people of faith.*

    * Actual argument used to “prove” that belief in evolution is faith.

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