Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Guest Blogger Don Monaco: Lars and the Real Girl—A thriller?

Warning: This is not a review. It is a critique and details the ending.

I’m often captured by aspects of a movie which are not the filmmakers' central intent, or have escaped their notice. I watched Letters from Iwo Jima wondering if the worldly general was unaware that the Japanese code of honor allowed troops in China to bayonet babies or did that general (or Clint Eastwood) feel that it would not fit with their conception of their nation (or movie) and therefore should be ignored.

But it is even more interesting to me to note the traps that a move steps into, seemingly unaware. Lars and the Real Girl is either a light, moving story of a community’s support for one of its needy citizens, or a seed for a horror movie of the future.

This is a fascinating story of a young man isolated emotionally from family and everyday relationships. He purchases on the internet an anatomically correct manikin, names her Bianca and insists to his brother and sister-in-law and to all the small community that she is alive, his girl friend, a nurse, and they love one another very much.

The community—church, friends, fellow workers—all recognize Lars’ need, and adopt the manikin into parties, knitting groups, church services. Lars subsequently pays some attention to, and appears interested in, a girl from work who he previously ignored. Lars now reports that he proposed to Bianca, and she has refused him. Bianca dies at a lake. Lars and the real girl meet again at Bianca’s funeral, and Lars goes off with her. End of film.

The idyllic story of Lars recovery from depression, due to the town’s amazing and vigorous support, into a real and promising relationship is wonderful fun. But I ask myself, did Bianca have to die? How did she die?

The movie does a great job of revealing Lars’ pathology without technical words, and its treatment during the same time the town is embracing Bianca. Lars’ newly pregnant sister-in-law convinces Lars to see a doctor about Bianca’s health, knowing that Dr. Dagmar is also a psychologist. The doctor recognizes Lars’ problem and under the cover of Bianca’s “high blood pressure” treatments, talks to Lars. We learn of the early death, (possibly in childbirth) of Lars’ mother, Lars’ father’s long depression as he raised the two boys, and Lars’ brother’s running away from the family because of the pervading sadness at home.

When Lars reports that his sister–in-law has a problem with being touched it is clear it is Lars’ problem. He knows, he says, because he has the same problem. He shows Dr. Dagmar, the many layers of clothing he wears as protection. Dagmar offers to help. With slight touches over many sessions she gets him accustomed to more and more.

One assumes that Dagmar diagnoses Lars’ problem as his unconscious manifesting itself in Bianca. He purchased the manikin because he wants his depression, fear of death, fear of intimacy to be recognized. By bringing Bianca to town, he can hide and show his problem—reveal and translate his problem, in a fantasized relationship with a manikin.

After he meets the real girl, Lars’ healthy impulse is to separate from Bianca so he can pursue a real relationship. But he cannot initiate the separation. Bianca must reject him, as his mother and father and brother rejected him. He does not have the right (maturity) to reject others, or simply to allow them to pass out of his life. He creates the offer of marriage, and her rejection, and her death. So how healthy is Lars, really?

Here is how Bianca dies: Bianca continues on her demanding schedule—tonight at a school board meeting. Lars, not needed at the meeting, bumps into a woman from work who had pursued him, and he had rejected. They go bowling. Other people join them. They all have a good time.

Soon after, Lars reports, moaning with sadness, that he had proposed marriage to Bianca and she had refused him. Lars is heard raising his voice, shouting, arguing with Bianca repeatedly. Now he reports she is ill. She is taken to the hospital. She recovers slightly—and Lars and she are taken for a spring outing to a lake. Brother and sister –in-law, who is now very pregnant, go off for a walk. On returning they see Lars in the lake, holding Bianca and crying.

How does Bianca get into the lake? We are not told. The next scene is a funeral service for Bianca. She is buried. At graveside, Lars and the real girl make a real connection, go off for a walk. End of film.

Am I really watching the story the filmmakers intended? Are their intentions not really a light, happy date movie? Why did Bianca have to die? Couldn’t she simply have left by the midnight train? Was this a deliberate choice by the filmmakers?

Back to Lars’ unconscious: Perhaps Lars is frightened to death by loneliness, and angry at his intimate relations for repeatedly abandoning him. People who reject him die. Like his mother.

We know that Lars, in his loving and tortured sadness took Bianca into the lake. She rejected him. She died. A final question, what does this imply about the real girl’s life expectancy? I hope she never has to go to a school board meeting.

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