The other day I watched a Ryan Gosling movie – Lars and the Real Girl. It was unexpectedly good. If you haven’t seen it and have plans to, then stop reading as I’m about to share basically the entire plot. **SPOILER ALERT***
Lars is a kinda weird, quirky guy who shocks the entire town by purchasing a life-sized female doll and telling everyone that she’s his girlfriend. He acts as though she’s a real human and expects the others to do so as well. He explains away her inability to walk by placing her in a wheelchair. The townspeople, including Lars’ brother and sister-in-law have to decide whether to go along with the charade or tell Lars he’s plumb crazy!! A lot of interesting little things happen along the way, including a delightful exchange between some church members that ends with the pastor / reverend asking (you guessed it): “What would Jesus do?”
Well the townspeople, for the most part, decide to go along with it. The movie shows the comedy and drama that occur as grown people try to pretend that this obviously fake doll is a real person who can hear and understand them, and who has feelings and emotions. There’s the subplot of Lars’ brother and sister-in-law trying to get him help by getting him to think that Bianca (that’s her name) is sick and needs treatment. The doctor says Bianca has some strange illness that can only be treated by multiple visits, during which she surreptitiously treats Lars and helps him work through some of the deep-seated psychological issues he faces. (I LOVED the psychiatrist’s character, by the way). Lars starts getting better and starts to like a girl (a real girl this time – lol), and decides that Bianca has to die. And everybody goes along and pretends that she’s dying, including ambulance personnel coming in response to a 9-1-1 call saying that Bianca is unconscious and rushing her to the hospital, sirens blazing! Lol.
The movie is simultaneously funny, serious and incredulous. But it’s wonderfully done. I spent some time contemplating the decision of Lars’ close family and friends to go along with his delusion – to pretend that Bianca was real. This was highlighted at a party one of Lars’ co-workers held. Everyone who worked in the office received a memo stating that Lars would be coming and he would be bringing Bianca and everybody should pretend that she was real and act normal. Even the hostess’ husband was in on things, greeting Bianca warmly when he was introduced to her. I asked a friend of mine what he would have done, and he said that he wouldn’t have attended the party – he couldn’t condone perpetuating a delusion.
What would I have done if it was my child? Would I have tried to nip things in the bud? Would I have thrown Bianca away? Would I have ignored Lars whenever he acted as though she was real? Would I have gone along with it? In the end, in the movie, no one was hurt by pretending that Bianca was real. People definitely felt stupid for talking to a doll – but no one died or suffered because of it. And it made Lars happy. Was that wrong? I’m sure there are many instances where people are deluded and definitely need not be pandered to because the results can be dangerous and tragic. My friend pointed out to me situations where people had deluded themselves into thinking that things that weren’t quite the way they portrayed them were, in fact, the gospel truth – and that delusion has negatively affected lots of other things. So I can definitely see both sides of the coin.
I don’t have answers to any of my questions. So I’ll end with this. The movie, although perhaps not intentionally, highlights the often overlooked and avoided issue of mental illness – how it affects those who have the illness, and how it affects those who have to deal with the illness. I hope I now have a little more sympathy for people in both camps.