Lars and the Real Girl released quietly in 2007 to critical acclaim, but tiny audiences. The film stars an adorably awkward Ryan Gosling as Lars, a depressed man suffering from the delusion that a life-sized sex doll named Bianca (who he “met” online) is his girlfriend. At first, the premise seems silly or in poor taste, which may account for the film’s smallish following. But what sounds like the pitch for a bad Judd Apatow film reveals itself as a beautiful and funny story about the importance of human connection and the power of human kindness.
When Lars brings Bianca home to meet the family, his brother Gus is ready to call up the funny farm. But following Doctor’s orders, Lars’s friends and family go along with Lars’s delusion. As his relationship with Bianca plays out, Lars works through his issues with abandonment, intimacy, and his parents’ deaths. With the support of the whole town, Lars is eventually able to connect with his reticent brother, to dance and mingle at a work party, and even to go on a sort-of-date with his cute female co-worker. Meanwhile, Bianca attends church with Lars (reluctant congregants are told that accepting her is what Jesus would do); she volunteers at the hospital (“reading” audio books); she gets a “job” at the mall (as a clothes model, naturally); and she generally steals the hearts of everyone in the community. When Bianca succumbs to an ongoing mysterious illness, the whole town shows up for her funeral.
At its heart, Lars is a tale of the power of human connection — a reminder that being fully human requires being human in loving community. Early in the film, when Gus, Lars’s brother, suggests to his worried wife that perhaps Lars just wants to be left alone, his wife disagrees, “because that’s not how people are.” In the film’s first church scene, the pastor reminds his congregation that “love is God in action,” and in a subsequent church scene, the pastor preaches from 1 Corinthians 13, the famous “love” passage. The congregants appear to practice what has been preached, treating both Lars and Bianca with respect and dignity. It is the love of friends and family that eventually brings Lars through his healing process, proving, once again, that Barbra Streisand was right about those lucky “people who need people.”
But there’s something even more important in the film’s insistence on the necessity of human relationships. At the start of the film, neither Lars nor Bianca are able to participate fully in human life, but through the community’s loving support, both become functioning members of the human race. Lars is brought back to humanity through the dignity that his loved ones impart to him, and Bianca is, in a sense, brought into being through the town’s humane treatment of her. Even when Lars isn’t around, Lars’s brother and sister-in-law clean and dress Bianca until she is transformed from a literal sex object into a respectable woman. Town members talk to Bianca, the doctor “treats” her, and the pastor greets Bianca as she leaves church. By the time of Bianca’s funeral as her friends and family assemble “to celebrate Bianca’s extraordinary life,” she has helped others, brought people together, and given Lars the healing relationship he needed in order to move into a fulfilling life. Because others endow her with love and life, Bianca finally becomes the “real girl” of the film’s title. In Lars and the Real Girl, we learn that although humanity may be a given, it is not a guarantee; how we treat one another matters. We have the power, through our actions, to grant or deny another’s humanity, whether that person is a lovable lunatic like Lars, an anatomically-correct mannequin, or an ordinary misfit like the rest of us.
Christine Hand Jones is a singer-songwriter, a college English professor, and the Director of Music Ministry at Highland Baptist Church. She has a PhD in Literary Studies from the University of Texas at Dallas, which she earned, in large measure, by listening to the collected works of Bob Dylan and writing about what she heard. When she's not playing music or fascinating her students with stunning lectures over comma splices, Christine can be found drinking coffee, playing devoted cat mom to Desmond and Molly, and roaming the shelves of Half-Price Books.