Lars and the Real Girl explores the complexities of loss, mental health, and the impact that true and loving relationships can have on those who are struggling or hurt.
Lars lives in the garage apartment of his older brother, Gus, and his wife, Karin. Karin desperately tries to connect with Lars—inviting him to the house for dinner and greeting him whenever she can—but she is usually met with a kind, but awkward smile from Lars who, in not so many words, declines. Lars keeps to himself and finds it hard to interact with his coworkers and church acquaintances. We learn that Lars and Gus’ mother died from Lars’ childbirth and Lars was raised by their father—alone—and that Karin is pregnant with her first child. Lars is understandably working through how this makes him feel and although it is never spoken, he has fears about history repeating itself.
In order to remedy his loneliness, Lars orders a sex doll online who he deems his “girlfriend that he met on the internet”, Bianca. He asks Karin if he can bring her over for dinner and Karin is delighted. When Bianca and Lars show up for dinner that night, Gus and Karin are concerned but are filled with grace and love toward both Lars and Bianca. Gus and Karin convince Lars to go see the doctor with Bianca so she can be under care, while their true intentions lie with Lars seeing a doctor for his mental health. Dr. Dagmar convinces Lars that Bianca will need treatment once a week and while she undergoes treatment, Lars and Dr. Dagmar will talk.
Throughout the film, from Lars’ brother and sister-in-law to the congregants and leaders at the local church, all are invested in loving and caring for Lars, which includes treating Bianca like a real person. Bianca becomes the talk of the town—she is invited to parties and gatherings, she is even given clothes and pampering. And through Bianca, Lars gains confidence and experiences healing in his relationship with his brother and others. Gus apologizes for leaving Lars with their father when he knew that their father wasn’t in a healthy place to raise a child. Through this interaction, Lars gains understanding and is able to begin to heal.
Lars agrees to go on a date with a girl from work, Margo, who clearly finds Lars curious and adorable. Lars takes a big step to hang out with Margo—and he makes sure to tell her he could never cheat on Bianca—but they have a lovely time and even end the evening with a handshake (no small feat for Lars). A few days later Lars declares that Bianca is unresponsive and sick. The townspeople take care of Bianca as if she were their own daughter or mother, bringing her cards and flowers and making sure Lars is okay. Soon after Bianca dies and the town has a funeral in her memory and honor. Lars is greeted by Margo at the funeral and as the movie ends, they walk together, at the request of Lars.
There is so much to unpack from this film, but I’d like to focus on one key feature that stood out to me. Lars’ family and community knew and loved him well enough to all work together for his good. As the church group gathered in the church basement to discuss their hesitancy about what to do with him, they were guided by love and grace. When Gus and Karin questioned what to do about Lars’ girlfriend, they were guided by love and grace. And when the doctor was confronted with Lars’ mental health, she was guided by love and grace. They each uniquely and beautifully treated Lars like their friend, brother, or son—which opened up a way for Lars to heal. Through their interactions in this film, we are shown how we can honor each other in relationship. It also shows us how we need the support and love of others as we or those we love process loss and grief. This community shows us an almost ideal response and outcome to what Lars was going through, but I think through seeing it done well, we can learn, affirm, and see the ways in which we can offer small steps of comfort for those who are hurting in our own lives.
Questions to consider:
What were some of the ways that Lars was cared for that were particularly meaningful to you?
How did you see the church portrayed in this film?
What are some ways this film offered you ways to see and respond to someone in grief or pain?