As you are browsing the local movie rental store or looking for a movie to add to your Netflix queue you may read the brief synopsis of a new movie released on DVD this week. The synopsis reads like this,
“Lars (Ryan Gosling) is an awkwardly shy young man in a small Northern town who finally brings home the girl of his dreams to his brother and sister-in-law’s home. The only problem is that she’s not real – she’s a sex doll Lars ordered off the internet.”
What do you do? Wince and run the other way? Delete the movie from your queue? Perhaps you may, but resist that temptation. This movie, Lars and the Real Girl, isn’t all it seems from a two sentence summary. Christianity Today rated it as one of their most redeeming films of 2007
In fact sex is not what Lars has in mind, but rather deep, meaningful relationships with others. Lars and the Real Girl is a charming look at a young man who is learning how to join life. It is a movie about communicating and connecting, with the doll merely serving as the necessary conduit.
Lars Lindstrom is a 27 year old, shy loner who avoids contact with people as much as possible. His issues seem to stem from the fact that his mother died while giving birth to him and he was raised by his depressed father. Lars now lives in the garage apartment behind his childhood home which is occupied by his older brother, Gus (Paul Schneider), and his pregnant wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer). The only social activity that Lars engages in is regularly attending the town’s Lutheran church.
One day at the small office where he works a co-worker shows him an Internet ad for a life-size girl doll that is “anatomically correct”. Lars purchases one and introduces her to his brother and sister-in-law as Bianca, a half-Danish, half Brazilian missionary who is “on sabbatical to experience the world.” She must be pushed around in a wheelchair and Lars claims to have met Bianca, his new girlfriend, on the Internet.
Obviously Gus and Karin are very concerned about Lars’ behavior. Karin suggests that they seek counsel from Dr. Dagmar (Patricia Clarkson), a family doctor. Soon, Lars is taking Bianca to the doctor once a week, which gives Dr. Dagmar a chance to talk to him and also to work on his fear of being touched and connecting with others. She tells Gus and Karin that Lars has a delusion and the best thing for them to do is to simply go along with it.
Not only do Gus and Karin go along with Lars’ delusion but so do other’s in their small town. The church council and the pastor meet to decide what to do if Lars brings Bianca to a Sunday service. Mrs. Gruner (Nancy Beatty) convinces them that everyone has problems and that they should offer moral support to Lars in the name of love. The pastor concludes the meeting by saying that the only question they need to consider is “What would Jesus do?” Consequently, when Lars brings Bianca to church, the congregation accommodates her and even welcomes her with a gift of flowers.
This tolerance of Bianca starts with the Christians at Lars’ church but rapidly spreads throughout the whole community. Bianca gets her hair styled at the local beauty shop. Bianca is asked to volunteer at the hospital, and is even elected to the local school board. And through this journey with Bianca, Lars begin to see for the first time in his life, that he could have a normal life like other people – REAL people. Toward the end of the movie he begins to respond to all the special attention he has been receiving from Margo (Kelli Garner), a co-worker who has taken quite a liking to him.
I think that Lars and the Real Girl is a powerful look at the body of Christ in action. It is a movie about the power of love and support from a community, particularly a church community, around a person who is broken and in need of healing. His fellow churchgoers choose to love him unconditionally by playing along and embracing him in spite of his unusual behavior and soon after the whole town follows their lead.
Lars is certainly different. He is a man with a lot of pain. He has big needs. Too often the church doesn’t have the patience, desire or is ill-equipped to do what it takes to help those who are very needy or are considered “high maintenance”. Unlike many movies that portray the church as judgmental, this movie portrays the church as a matrix of love, hospitality and care. Lars and the Real Girl breaks the typical Hollywood mold by presenting a Lutheran church in a small Northern town as the catalyst for an amazing outpouring of love and care by its entire community for a hurting and troubled person who needs their help.
This movie exudes warmth, acceptance and forgiveness. It beautifully pictures the sacrifices made by others for the sake of restoring a man that has been wounded and broken.
Don’t be tempted to walk away from this movie by judging it by it’s cover. Rather you will be encouraged and delight in watching Lars become restored as a whole man as he learns how to connect with REAL life and learn to love the REAL girl.