Lars and the Real Girl is my latest Netflix return. I well remember the film being advertised when it came out in 2007, and I actually had very little interest in seeing it. It was one of those new releases that I was willing to acknowledge might be very good, but about which I simply couldn’t discern why I should be interested in seeing it. I finally rented the film in part because it was directly recommended to me, and also because I was informed that its star is Ryan Gosling, who is simply a phenomenal actor. The recommendation came with the assurance that Lars and the Real Girl was a veritable emotional rollercoaster, eliciting laughter and tears in roughly equal measure. I found that to be quite accurate, and was delighted by it.
It was a very good film. The performances made it work brilliantly, which was surely no easy task, given the highly unusual content of the story. Every visual detail was well-presented, and the earnestness of the screenplay was obvious. Naturally, I am blogging about this film because I have something to say about the writing and its thematic content, and something having to do with breaking points. The story of Lars and the Real Girl is simultaneously far-fetched and profoundly realistic. It involves a small, northern latitude town, which, when Lars develops his delusional relationship with a life-sized doll, agrees in its entirety to go along with his fantasy until he is able to, through its presence, work out the issues that make it virtually impossible for him to relate to others.
In the DVD special features, the screenwriter specifically states her intentions in writing the script, saying that she wanted to show what it might look like if people dealt with mental illness of this sort through compassion, acceptance, and tolerance. And that is a wonderful thing to behold. The film presents the general topic of mental illness in a remarkably progressive way. The main character is not expected to fix himself by pure force of will. Rather, it takes a community effort, with a great deal of patience, over a long period of time. And I think that is a far more realistic and altruistic perception. It takes a great many changes of circumstance to bring Lars back to reality, and concordantly it is clear that it was a great many circumstances, not all of them in his control, that brought him to the point of needing his delusion.
I wish to God that people as a whole would come to a breaking point in their understanding not just of mental illness, but of social circumstance and extremes of emotion, and anything at all that takes more than mere desire for change to be meaningfully altered. The usual impulses in such cases include medicating the symptom and blaming the victim so as to demand change without personally investing anything in the outcome. But it seems clear to me that real change for the better comes only with time, and only when there is outside stimulus to trigger it and nurture it. The writer of the film, Nancy Oliver, does not name the town in which it is set. Certainly, the place does not exist. Though the characters are flawed and in need of development, their universal care for one another makes the setting, in effect, utopia. It portrays in a bizarre and humorous way, an ideal that we can all strive for when we are content in our reality, and hope for when we are lost in our delusions.