We were driving home from a family wedding in Jacksonville. We are attending these gatherings with increasing frequency, but whether marriages or funerals, outside the formal event and appropriate attire, our family conversation is the same, fraying and reweaving itself out of our particular social and cultural fabrics to an quilted knit of unqualified goodness. So, somewhere between Lake City and Gainesville I imagined us home in Tampa, ragged out and crashed around plates of left-overs and a movie. Lars and the Real Girl cropped up in our impromptu movie reviews, so that's what we watched.
If you have not seen Lars and the Real Girl, I hope you will. Says Christianity Today, “Lars and the Real Girl is a sweet and endearing film about a shy, reclusive man who strikes up a chaste relationship with a sex doll that he orders over the Internet...” And further, “we might as well note that the film's risqué premise actually serves to underscore the man's decency and goodness. Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling) has brought the doll into his life, and named it 'Bianca,' because for some reason he cannot let himself get too close to anyone, not even his brother Gus (Paul Schneider) and his sister-in-law Karin (Emily Mortimer). And he certainly can't handle the thought of dating an actual woman, even though he has an attractive, perky co-worker named Margo (Kelli Garner) who sings in the choir at his church and is obviously interested in him.”
It is easy to ask the wrong questions about Lars and the Real Girl. You can get distracted by comparing it with comfortable mindsets that curtail discussion. You can ask “chicken or egg” questions about Lars' clinical state, its causes, or standard therapies. You can make easy criticisms about individual and corporate responsibilities, or how science and faith act outside their ordinate categories. The movie challenges all manner of convention.
Better questions might come along these lines:
- In what ways is sex portrayed?
- Why is the taboo of sex such a good fulcrum to visit cultural questions?
- How does the implausible situation help get to the bigger questions?
- What in the film is being made? What is made real?
- How does the movie engage creatio ex nihilo (creating out of nothing)?
- Where in the film and in what ways to we find simple acts of caring?
- How do these simple acts signify a caring community?
- What is it “to sit and to knit?” What Psalm uses knitting as a metaphor?
- Lars' brother rarely finishes a sentence. At what important point are they complete?
- How does the film deal with the connection between death (or suffering) and maturity?
- How do the seasons change over the course of the film and what does that say?
- What does the hard scene of Bianca's death at the lake convey to you?
- How is Paul's “put to death what is earthly in you” possibly considered?
During the week of the wedding the national media was full of existential questions: the Charleston murders, ongoing Middle East wars, trans-racial and trans-sexual identity, political machinations from global trade to greenhouse gases. But at the reception and dinner we checked all those conversations at the door. And not despite, but because of them we got lost in the fray of foolish small talk and made imaginative whole cloth of our colorful oddities.