It was the first time I’d seen any of the film because it came out in “no-movie time” for me, which was pretty much from 2002-2010.
My husband and I are avid movie watchers and love the whole big-screen and popcorn experience, but during those eight years or so we had infants and toddlers, no entertainment budget, and no free babysitters (as in, no extended family in town). We didn’t get out much.
Except last night I stayed up long enough for LatRG, and it unexpectedly affected me.
For those who haven’t seen it, the basic summary (don’t worry, I won’t reveal the ending) is that Lars (played by Ryan Gosling) is a single man living by choice in the garage of the house his father left him and his brother. His brother and pregnant sister-in-law live in the house and encourage Lars to join them as much as possible; offers he generally declines.
The interest begins when Lars, who avoids all intimate human contact, orders a “real girl” doll from an adult website, imagines an identity for her, and behaves as if she is alive and wheelchair bound. The family doctor deftly intervenes and advises the family to pretend “Bianca” is alive, as well.
Throughout the movie (from where I started watching) Lars is sincere in his treatment of Bianca as alive, even in their private moments – none of which were sexual, but rather focused on aspects of a relationship like social adjustment, disappointment, arguments, and tender moments, such as when he reads to her. He is vulnerable but also tests his ability to be emotionally strong with her.
As the movie progresses, the revelations of Lars’s mother having died giving birth to him, his father spiraling into despair as a result and staying there until his own death, and his brother running from that environment and leaving Lars behind emerges. Lars has no idea how to function outside of the confines of grief, but desperately seems to desire to. Go here for the full synopsis and cast list.
What affected me the most in the film was the treatment of Lars and Bianca by everyone, not just his family and doctor – but all of the town, as sincere.
Because this was a movie, I kept waiting for the “mean” to happen or the antagonist to show up, but neither did. I didn’t want harm to come to Lars, but I expected it.
The level of compassion shown to Lars struck me as ridiculously unrealistic. When a scene seemed ripe for meanness – the perfect setup for outright bullying, a snide comment, a derisive laugh, even an eye roll – there was only kindness.
I found myself getting mad.
In my head I began ridiculing the potential antagonists for not meeting my expectations: Yeah right – like you wouldn’t be a total dick right then! or Really? REALLY? I don’t think you’d let that slide. I was bracing for the painful blows that weren’t struck.
But the longer the sincerity went on the more I allowed my suspension of disbelief, and the better Lars seemed to get. The tenderness and compassion that every single other character bestowed his gave him the room to process and heal on his own timetable and in his own way, free from the judgment I found I habitually anticipate. In the fully compassionate world of this movie, the real pain in the main character was addressed in a uniquely open-hearted, unconditional, and kind way.
I realized that in life we are constantly surrounded by the false shadows of ego, and I’m so used to encountering them (even my own, clearly) that when, in a movie, I was presented with the scenario of them not being barriers to the healing of someone – it was maddeningly unrealistic.
And then it clicked.
The real pain of Lars was still beneath the surface. Had his fragile character been bombarded by antagonistic missiles, his healing would not have been complete – it would have occurred perhaps, but with the wounds of new pain, and that wasn’t the intent of the film. Instead, the movie seemed fresh in it’s dedication to healing the underlying pain at its source, purely and in entirety.
What a gift that would be in real life.
Granted there were extenuating circumstances that surrounded the plot: it was a very small town, people knew each other their entire lives, the doctor was empathetic and patient, no one else’s pain was portrayed even remotely as deeply, there was a strongly cohesive female influence in the healing (the sister-in-law, the doctor, the older women in the knitting circle, the interested coworker, and Bianca herself), and there was notably a lack of technological distraction – not one person was on an iPhone, laptop, or other socially-distancing device.
While I still don’t believe that in our culture today this freedom of compassion is readily available, it made me think about how better healed we’d be if it was. I think to varying degrees, a lot of us expect and are addicted to meanness (to ourselves and others) in the subtler forms of sarcasm, self-deprecation, judgment, elitism, and through social dismissal – often veiled in socially acceptable humor or entertainment.
Sometimes those forms offer awareness and are non-harming and funny. But they can also be outright or insidiously cruel, and beyond the momentary satisfaction they bring, they can cause harm to everyone. We can’t get rid of the impulse to verbally hit or bite, but we can manage the indulgence of it. Socially, as adults, we still need to hear this.
Those forms of expression aren’t what constitute actual joy or true intimacy; they’re shadows of ego used as coping mechanisms and are symptoms of deeper, raw, unhealed pain that we skim over in effort to keep life moving “forward” from one distraction to the next. We try to outpace any stillness that would give us a glimpse within. We’ve stopped listening.
We rationalize that because we’re really nice to someone else, it’s ok to be mean to people who get under our skin. But it’s not, and the lesson isn’t with what’s easy.
Compassion has to be equal in what any individual allows for themselves and what s/he gives to others. Sometimes we lack compassion for ourselves because to have it would be to admit we need it, which would be an admission of pain – and the perception of pain is as weakness and “bad”…or, just more than we can handle alone.
But our inner isolation is an illusion, too. And when we withhold compassion from ourselves we’re also withholding it from others, because it loses it’s balance and essence of truth. It’s a cycle of deficit that seems to call for greater ego suspension and a deeper sense of community – a deeper remembrance of unity – to break.
Heal the individual, heal the whole – but, as Lars and the Real Girl illustrated – sometimes it takes the whole to heal just one. That might have to start with every individual simply being nicer, so that the “whole” can become more successfully synergistic rather than egotistically splintered.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it may just take a village to heal an inner one, too.