Ξ May 25th, 2008 | → 2 Comments | ∇ Fine Arts Indeed, The Dolls' House |
I was finally able to watch Lars and the Real Girl last week, and since it’s so obviously a subject close to my heart thought I’d write up a review of this wonderful, heartwarming movie. I was really hesitant to see it at first, because movies and shows about dolls almost always focus on the “creepy” factor, and predictably end up with the hero “coming to his senses” and destroying, disposing of, or leaving behind his artificial companion in favor of a more socially-acceptable resolution. Much to my surprise and delight, Craig Gillespie’s direction combines with Nancy Oliver’s brilliant writing and together they produced a film that is memorable, funny, and provocative, in the sense of using the doll as a device to bring people together rather than the cliched conflict-heavy plots of the more pedestrian (and forgettable) films of the past.
But the star of the show (other than Bianca-Doll) is Ryan Gosling, who brings forth an incredibly deep and realistic portrayal of Lars as a sweet, gentle, yet troubled young man, not because of his need for or his interaction with a life-sized doll, but someone in the grips of a crippling loneliness which leads to his manifesting his delusion into flesh, albeit silicone flesh. Such a convincing and rich performance should not be missed; Ryan brings to Lars a unique perspective and flawless depiction of a young man seeking love without even knowing it, making his choices in the best way that he knows how, given his isolated and cramped comfort-zone. Despite the apparent fantasy of his delusion, he brings the role to life with real understanding, and his interactions with Bianca are so true-to-life despite the unlikelihood of his situation. Not many viewers will likely relate to it, but they will to Lars’ genuine attempts to break the shell that he lives in.
From an interview included on the DVD, he says this: “Lars is very lonely, but he doesn’t make a choice out of loneliness to be loved; he makes a choice to love something.”
But how can one find love when wrapped so tightly in a cocoon of solitude? How can one deal with that crushing solitude in the presence of everyone else’s (presumably healthy and happy) relationships? And, how can one cope with the lack of happiness without imposing his bleak outlook or “problem” on his loved ones and companions? Lars doesn’t know, but he’s about to find out, with the help and support of his family and friends, and Bianca. I’ll admit to finding the likelihood that everyone in the town would be so tolerant rather than riding him out of town on a rail as unrealistic, but that contrast is exactly the charm of this film, and it offers hope that we as a society might do the same and be kind, wise, and tolerant rather than the cynical and derisive beings that we’ve become.
Early on, one scene stuck out in its starkness: Lars sitting alone in his garage-home, in the dark, and isolated in every aspect despite the affectionate invitation just shown him by Karin. It’s as if he can’t feel anything warm or loving, every bit as much as he can’t tolerate being touched, which he so obviously needs to be. Dagmar tries (with varying degrees of success) but Lars is resolute; it hurts him when someone displays any physical affection.
The supporting cast is wonderfully chosen and there isn’t a false note out of any of them: Paul Schneider as Gus, Lars’ incredulous brother; Emily Mortimer as Karin, Gus’ concerned wife, Kelli Garner as Margo, Lars’ cute co-worker, and Patricia Clarkson as Dagmar, the wise and understanding doctor who “treats” Bianca, but really trying to help Lars deal with his delusion that Bianca is a living person. When they (and all the townspeople) begin to accept Bianca as exactly that, Lars begins his journey out of his cocoon, and emerges, if not triumphantly, then gracefully, beautifully; like a butterfly…
At church, in another early scene, the preacher says, “Love one another. That is the one, true law. Love is God in action.” You don’t need to be a believer to believe that (It should come as no surprise to those who know me that, given my own manifestation of my character of Lily Godwin as a Realdoll, that this is a prominent message that runs through her novel as well. See her section and the excerpt on Unbound.org for details.)
So the film isn’t so much about a man and his life-sized “sex doll” but rather about the doll bringing everyone together to help someone they love. In fact, one of my favorite things about Lars is that it never focuses on the sexual aspects of the doll (other than the townpeople’s hilarious reactions); Bianca is truly a “love doll”. That is a significance that everyone needs to understand, and get their minds out of the ever-convenient-and-present gutter. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I guess. Only the uninitiated (and outright horn-dogs lol) consider them as simply sex toys. Given how society is these days that is sadly unsurprising. So, all we can do is break that assumption down, and Lars succeeds in this manner spectacularly.
I took extensive notes during the flim; here are a few from the hastily-jotted selections; they are written so as to avoid spoilers:
The Realdoll website in the film is only partly “real”; they don’t use the cheesy voiceovers of the dolls shown in the film which come out like any porn-flick actress’ would. But yes, the combinations with all the options available is in the millions, as Director Gillespie says in the short documentary. This is how I got Lily to look so convincingly close to how I imagined her in the story (some pics of her are shown well below this post).
A good example of how the dolls serve the observers’ imagination was shown when Karin begins talking to Bianca about her job, and how the townspeople used Bianca to provide them with what they wanted, a librarian, church member, even a mirror for their own beliefs as to how a woman should be treated. A doll (any doll) is a toy for the imagination; or, you might say, a tool. And a fertile imagination is a good thing
Dagmar’s first meeting Bianca, and examining her in front of Lars: “Her blood pressure’s low.” Later, when talking with Karin and Gus, who’s distraught at his brother’s delusion, she says, “Bianca is real. She’s in town for a reason.”
At their first breakfast, where an obviously disgusted Gus is not feeling well enough to go to work, Lars suggests that Bianca might help him get better, as “she’s had nurse’s training.” Pushed over his limit, Gus responds, “No, she doesn’t have nurse’s training – she’s just a big, plastic thing!” Ignoring the remark (or refusing to hear it), Lars turns to Bianca and turns back to Gus. “Did you hear that? Bianca says that’s why God made her – to help people.”
When Gus tells his co-workers about Bianca, one of them says, “Wish I had a woman who didn’t talk.” This misogynist statement is about as common as is that uttered by other ignorant folk such as, “The dolls are creepy and so are those who own them.” But as that isn’t exactly misogynist, I’ll settle for reprobatist. If that’s even a word. In any case, both are too common, but typical given the lack of awareness and sensitivity we have towards each other these days.
Interesting to note Lars’ co-workers who treasure action-figures and teddy-bears, giving them their affections; at one point a church member chastises another intolerant member with, “Your cousin dresses his cat up and (another) gives donations to a UFO society!” So, what is “weird,” exactly? Whatever the flock of sheep doesn’t accept as the safely-weird du jour? That changes daily, and who cares to even want to keep track of what they deem acceptable? I guess those that need to belong… need to be approved of… need to be seen as “unthreatening” to the flock/herd/masses. A doll threatens that because she (or he) can be a replacement for those lacking in tolerance but who demand tolerance of their disdain. And that’s unacceptable to them because they need to have those they can flog.
Lars comments about Bianca were insights into himself, using the doll as a proxy therapist: He is going to take her to the lake, and explains to Gus, “Bianca’s asking me all these questions -she wants to know all about me.” At Dagmar’s, after a pitying remark, he says, “She doesn’t feel sorry for herself. She just wants to be normal and have everyone treat her normal.” Later on, he is reading to her from a book, the passage says: “But what distressed him greatly was not having another hermit there to confess him.” So, even though he can’t explain it well to others, Lars is very self-aware, and knows what he wants, and needs. Bianca is truly helping him to come to terms with what these things might be.
Margo to Lars when she’s in a down mood regarding a breakup: “He wasn’t that interesting.” Lars: “Then why was he your boyfriend?” Margo: “I get lonely.” “Oh yeah?” “Yeah…” Which, aside from just feeling lonely, does address a problem we have today in this give-it-to-me-quick society: Hasty relationships based on initial physical attraction without a thought toward what the person is really like or a true compatability, as long as one can be seen as “involved” which is much rather preferable than being seen as single, or a loner, or worse… But loneliness is common to everyone; dealing with it is how we escape that void. And Lars, with Bianca’s help is trying…
I have to admit loving Margo; Kelli Garner, the actress who portrays her, was so good, and so cute (I’d have definitely approached her right away lol) I don’t want to give too much away, but I noted Lars’ difficulties with Bianca emerging right after he sees Margo getting involved with another co-worker. After he and she go bowling together, there’s a short deleted scene where Lars approaches Bianca who’s sitting in the tub; but clearly he’s feeling more distant, troubled over his enjoyable time with Margo. Fully-clothed, he gets in the tub, but doesn’t communicate, except for a feeble, “Hi.”
Another brief scene which I enjoyed was from another sermon at church, where the preacher quoted, “When I was a child, I spake as a child. I understood as a child…” I’m not sure, but I think that this might have been used in Wim Wenders’ remarkable film (and my favorite) Wings of Desire (which coincidentally is a story that someone compared Lily’s novel to.)
One of the final touching scenes was when Bianca was feeling unwell, and Karin asked through the shut bedroom door after getting no responses, “Bianca? Don’t you want to see this beautiful day?” And so the door opens… and when that happens, as the saying goes…
I liked the Fellini quote at the end: “If there were a little more silence, if we all kept quiet… maybe we could understand something.” Brilliant!
And this from Director Craig Gillespie: “The premise of the movie doesn’t do justice for the journey you go on.” That’s exactly the problem I’m having with selling Lily’s story. Too many query requirements demand you describe that, and some things are just too inexpressible to be done as concisely as they demand, and need to be directly experienced by the recipient of the work. Namely, You
In short, as Craig says (I think), “the movie is about people communicating with each other and coming together, and about connecting, and the doll is a conduit for that.”
And, it’s about Love. This is a scene from the anime series Rozen Maiden, which tells of those magical (ball-jointed) dolls’ adventures. Jun, the young protagonist, is visiting the doll-maker’s shop, and is speaking to Enju, the dollmaker, who says, “The feelings you put into a doll are all the same. As long as you pour love into them, they continue to live.” Jun: “Love…” Enju: “When love disappears, they die. They become lost. No matter who it is.” He cradles his newly-made doll, smiles, and says to it, “Hello.”
There is more to Life, and Love, than meets the eye. Lily hopes that you may read her story one day to discover this, and that
Kudos to all those who got together to make this film: producers, director, writer and actors. It is truly wonderful! Nancy Oliver said that she got the idea from visiting a doll-forum where doll-owners who don’t treat their dolls as simple sex-receptacles exist, and rumor says that a handful of us might have provided the portraits around which her story was framed. If so, she gets a heartfelt thanks for portraying us not as misfits of society, but people worthy of being understood. While none of us are delusional (I don’t think!), she definitely “gets” the relationships between us and our dolls. It’s only as weird as you think; therefore, any problems lie not with us…
Whether you’re intrigued by the dolls or not, everyone should see this film for the lessons in tolerance and deeper understanding it teaches. Thanks to the creators and the actors who so deftly delivered The Word