Thesis statement: Lars needs to address his delusional disorder by learning to connect with human beings. Presently Lars refuses to connect with family and friends including Gus his brother, Karin his sister-in-law, and Margo his attractive coworker.
The primary storyline is about a young man named Lars who struggles to bond with people. He does everything that he can to avoid human interaction often hiding in his converted garage house. His brother Gus and his sister-in-law Karin make every attempt to convince him to bond, including repeatedly inviting him to dinner. In fact Karin gets so desperate that she literally tackles him in the driveway before he can avoid her. However, what Lars is really struggling with is the premature death of his parents Paul Lindstrom and Elinor Lindstrom. The death of his mother Elinor is extremely difficult because she died, during his birth at thirty-three (Gillespie, 2007).
Gus struggles with feelings of guilt because he believes that he prematurely abandoned Lars following their mother’s death. Even though Lars grew up with his father, he did not receive much physical affection. His father was heartbroken and never quite seemed to recover. Growing up in this environment has caused Lars to struggle with even the slightest of human touch, which he avoids at all costs. It is later revealed that Lars feels that history could repeat itself if he had a child, that died during labor (Gillespie, 2007).
Therefore, Lars decides to take matters into his own hands and order an inanimate girlfriend online. When she arrives there is a noticeable transformation in Lars. Even before he introduces his new mannequin girlfriend Bianca, Lars starts to dress like he is going on a date. As soon as he mentions meeting someone online Gus and Karin are hopeful that he has finally started to come out of his shell (Gillespie, 2007).
Lars then proceeds to create a fictitious story about Bianca which he shares with Gus, Karin, and other local residents’. He claims Bianca is originally from the tropics, and ethnically she is Brazilian and Danish. Also, she does not speak very much English and she is in a wheelchair. According to Lars, Bianca is a missionary on Sabbatical seeking to explore the world. When Gus and Karen finally meet her their excitement quickly sours and they have a renewed concern about Lars mental well-being even more (Gillespie, 2007).
Gus and Karin eventually convince Lars to go with them to see Dr. Dagmar., a family practice physician/therapist. After an initial interview, Dr. Dagmar realizes that Gus needs weekly therapy. She tells him that he should bring Bianca in every week for special testing. It is during those special testing appointments that she begins therapy sessions.
What Dr. Dagmar discovers is that Lars struggles with insecurity. Rather than acknowledge it is his issue, he convinces himself that it is Karin. He claims that Karin is always trying to hug people and that this is uncomfortable for some people. He compares getting hugged with a cut or bruise. This place of emotional vulnerability is something that Lars does not have to deal with while dating Bianca. He also does not have to worry about the emotional complications or being in a relationship as he is in control of what happens in this relationship (Gillespie, 2007).
Part of what Dr. Dagmar advises for Gus and Karin to do is to play along with the fictitious character and associated story. Dagmar purports that this approach will actually enable Lars to release the story and subsequent delusion, at the point that he is ready to face reality. In fact Dr. Dagmar reminds Karin and Gus that Bianca has appeared for a reason. The movie implies that Lars could be struggling with delusional disorder. One visual clue is the screen shot of Gus researching “delusional order” online (Gillespie, 2007). According to a current psychiatric model, delusional disorder is a false belief that could be either plausible or derived. What is also unique about this disorder is that typically most individuals are operating under acceptable levels of psychosocial functioning (Sammons, 2005). This is an accurate assessment of Lars as he is fully functional even working fulltime and having no other apparent issues.
The movie seeks to leave clues about the emotional state of Lars without becoming too overt. For example, when Lars is meeting with Dr. Dagmar there are ironic similarities between Bianca’s background and Lars. For example, Lars claims that Bianca cannot have children and that her parent’s died when she was a baby. Dr. Dagmar points out to Lars how this historical background of Bianca is similar to his background (Gillespie, 2007).
This also reinforces something that Dr. Dagmar pointed out to Gus when they were speaking earlier. Dr. Dagmar informed Gus that sometimes mental illness could actually be a subtle form of communication (Gillespie, 2007). In other words Lars could be subtly attempting to communicate his feelings and what’s going on inside of his head. When Dr. Dagmar seeks to touch Lars it appears to be a form of therapeutic connection. At different points of therapeutic connection Lars indicates his comfort level, and degree of pain. Obviously the pain is emotional but it is manifesting through physical discomfort.
There is also something revealing in the background of Dr. Dagmar. The fact that she could not have children and her husband died, gave her a situational connection with Lars. Although this is not specifically stated, Lars does not appear to very strongly resist the therapy and counsel that she provides to him. Others in the town begin to make a conscious effort to build a relationship with Bianca (Gillespie, 2007).
It speaks to the fact that people will go to extreme measures to support someone they love. This fact is really driven home when Lars is having an argument with Karin. He is outside chopping wood and frustrated that Bianca has been adopted by others in the town for various activities. It is as if Bianca is becoming more human and this causes complications in the relationship with Lars.
In fact the very things that Lars tried to control are becoming more difficult and his fears of relationship begin to emerge. This includes the unpredictability of investing emotionally in someone only to have them abandon you. This is evident when he goes to Gus and Karin’s house looking for Bianca. He wants to play scrabble with Bianca but cannot because her schedule will not allow. She is on her way to volunteer time working with children who have cancer. Although this appears to be a good thing, Lars is beside himself and has a closed door argument with Bianca (Gillespie, 2007).
One emergent pattern is that as Bianca becomes more human in the eyes of the town, it complicates the delusion. No longer is Lars in total control now the reality is that he is actually connecting with human beings which is something that he successfully avoided for years. However, even though he is losing control of the situation he is finding joy in the midst of uncertainty (Gillespie, 2007).
When his coworker has a party he goes to the party with Bianca and is actually giving her advice on how to connect with people. When he gets to the party you can see him initially struggling with nerves. However, he eventually relaxes and starts to enjoy himself. There is a really touching scene of him moving on the dance floor alone, he is really immersing himself in the music and the energy of the party (Gillespie, 2007).
As Lars is struggling to hold onto his delusional love relationship, there is a female coworker that is attracted to him. Through a good portion of the story he seems to avoid her and treat her in a very aloof manner. However, over the course of time he begins to find himself becoming more interested in Margo and less interested in Bianca. This budding interest in human connection also provides a great opportunity for reconciliation. For example he takes Bianca to see his parents’ gravesite, as a form of homage and acknowledgement of their passing (Gillespie, 2007).
Another moment of reconciliation takes place when he talks to Gus about entering into adulthood. He wants Gus to explain to him how an individual knows they have entered into adulthood. Gus seems to struggle at first to describe the associated emotions and decisions that reveal a person has matured. However, eventually Gus talks about their father Paul Lindstrom and their childhood. Gus shares how difficult it must have been being a father and yet taking care of two kid’s when you don’t really know how (Gillespie, 2007).
This was compounded by the fact that Paul had lost his wife and was still grieving. Paul’s grieving was evident in the fact there was no mention of a step-mom which means that Paul probably spent the rest of his day’s lonely in terms of the affection of a woman. Gus explains that when the father decided to allow his love for his boys to override his pain, that was symbolic of adult maturity. Gus went further to apologize for not being there emotionally for Lars when they were younger. There is forgiveness that occurs and in the process the behaviors associated with the delusional disorder are also addressed (Gillespie, 2007).
Towards the end of the movie Margo is seen crying in the work break room. Although Lars assumes it’s because she is upset about a noose being placed around her teddy bears neck. Although this is part of her emotional outburst she acknowledges that she is once again single having broken up with her boyfriend Eric. Further, she confides in Lars that she is only and wants to be in a relationship. In other words she also acknowledges that she did not really love Eric at all.
The intersection of love and emotions comes full circle when Lars agrees to go bowling with Margo. It is the first time that he is allowing himself to be somewhat vulnerable in a setting with Margo and without Bianca. This is in stark contrast to the party that occurred earlier in the movie that was attended by Margo and Bianca. While bowling with Margo, Lars struggles with his emerging feelings that he is having for her. He is struggling so much that he has to remind Margo at the end of the night that he would never cheat on Bianca (Gillespie, 2007). However, this statement informs the viewer that his walls of delusional reality or perception are changing.
In a sense, Bianca has become a teacher for him, allowing Lars to transition into a space of vulnerability and emotional connection with others. This reality truly comes full circle when Lars wakes Karin and Gus up screaming that Bianca is unconscious. Once at the hospital there are indications that Lars is actually letting go of Bianca and in doing so curing himself (Gillespie, 2007).
He is still the director in his own movie but he is realizing that he does not need Bianca in the story anymore. He is beginning to emotionally prepare himself to operate as an adult even though it will be painful. Although the symbolism is somewhat unclear there is a moment when Lars is at the lake with Bianca, Gus and Karin. At one point he takes Bianca into the water for what appears to be a baptism. Based on the next scene this process appears to be symbolic of purging as the next scene is an unusual funeral (Gillespie, 2007).
After the funeral the final scene shows Lars and Margo standing side-by-side. Now that Bianca has been officially buried Margo is unsure what place she will have in Lars life. However, at the end he invites Margo for a walk. She accepts and one can only assume that this is the beginning of a relationship between the two of them. This is of course the ultimate goal, which is to observe Lars moving from a fictional reality into authentic relationships (Gillespie, 2007).
As stated at the begging of the report Lars needed to address his delusional disorder. He was able to do this over the course of the movie by allowing others to live in that fictional reality. If others had not been able to exist within that reality then that could have ultimately prolonged the process of healing. Although there are complicated forms of delusional disorder, there are nondrug treatments. For example some models aptly integrate psychological and psychosocial treatment with minimal medication (Sammons, 2005).
This appears to be the approach that was used in treating Lars. The psychological treatment was successful in part because it informed Lars about feelings that had been suppressed. As he dealt with feelings that he had not previously dealt with in his own life, he became more open to social interaction. However, it was not until he actually saw Bianca as a person with complications that he began to understand human beings. The fear that kept him from connecting with Gus, Karin, and Margo was based on fear.
However, the more he dealt with that fear the more empowered he became. Ultimately Lars eventually began to realize that his delusional reality did not achieve his primary goal. The ultimate goal that Lars had was to avoid the pain of his past. Yet even with Bianca in his life he could not avoid dealing with his past or having to make difficult choices. Once Lars understood this reality then he was able to uncover the layers that he previously used to avoid human connection. By taking this courageous step he was able to find the real girl that he could emotionally bond with. This is the message of the movie and supports the purported thesis.
Lars and the Real Girl. Perf. Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner, Patricia Clarkson, Nancy Beatty, R.D. Reid. 20th Century Fox, 2007. Film.
Sammons, Morgan T. "Pharmacotherapy for Delusional Disorder and Associated Conditions." Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 36.5 (2005): 476-79. Print.
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