Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 4:19 pm | Fair 59º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Lars and the Real Girl’

Out of despair, comes a good grief.

4 Stars — Uplifting

Grief is an unpredictable experience. When experienced by an infant whose mother has died giving birth, grief can become a time-bomb waiting to explode later in life. But when this primal grief is compounded by a father who goes into secluded depression and never provides that child with the loving touch necessary for his growth into a healthy and mature human being, it can be debilitating. That is the premise of this quirky but endearing film in which a whole church and town participates in the healing of this grown-up grieving child.

Written by Nancy Oliver  and directed by Craig Gillespie, Lars and the Real Girl  is the story of Lars Lindstrom (Ryan Gosling). Set within the frigid cold of a northern small town, the winter of his life is experienced when his father dies and Lars moves back into his family home with his older brother, Gus (Paul Schneider), and his wife, Karin (Emily Mortimer). The problem is that his isolating pain compels him to live in the garage room rather than in the main house.

The symbolism of that arrangement is dynamic, both visually and psychologically. When Karin becomes pregnant with her and Gus’ first child, Lars’ already fragile spirit panics. Isolating to the point where he cannot even share a meal with his brother and sister-in-law, Lars becomes the object of Karin’s concern. But with every effort to draw him out, Lars moves deeper within his isolating pain.

The depth of his illness becomes obvious when Lars "meets" a woman on the Internet and begins a relationship with her. The problem is the "woman" is a life-size doll whose silicone body has the touch and feel and weight of a real person. Creating a full-blown delusion in which his new "girlfriend" is also an orphan whose mother died at her birth, was raised by nuns, became a missionary and is now on leave to explore the larger world, Lars introduces "Bianca" to his brother and sister-in-law.

What follows is both funny and insightful. This "relationship" gives a voice to Lars’ longing and pain. As his doctor, pastor, church and community surround him with real love and accept "Bianca" into their lives, Lars is able to live out his sorrow with the respect and love of everyone in his life.

We won’t spoil the tale by describing more, but there are few films that portray love in action as powerfully as this film. Mental distress is such an uncomfortable thing that people often reject the person or make fun of them. Although no one misses the humor of this situation in the film, neither do they miss the loneliness or pain that would cause a person to imagine someone who loves them. Their common humanity humanizes their responses and together they walk with Lars through this wintry season of his life. As the entire church gathers around and treats Lars with dignity and honor as he begins to find his own way through grief’s morass, the healing that occurs is not only within Lars’ soul but within the entire community as well. It is a lesson in compassion that all can appreciate.

I (Denny) had a friend who as an only child created an imaginary playmate when he was 4 years old. When the family was on vacation during his 5th year, they stopped at a gas station and about two hours of driving later he announced that they had "forgotten" his "friend" back at the station. When the parents asked if they should go back for the "friend," he responded: "No, it’s OK. He can live there." Have you ever created an imaginary friend or fantasy life? How did you end it?

The healing that occurs in Gus’ life brings him to a place of confession that he had selfishly abandoned his little brother to their father’s grieving depression. Do you believe he "selfishly abandoned" his little brother or was he doing a healthy self-care decision to leave? Have you ever made a similar decision?

The grief over the loss of his mother by her death after giving birth to him was activated by Karin’s pregnancy. Have you had a similar experience in which your grief over a loss years earlier was activated by a current experience? How did you deal with your grief?

The love of the church family and the sensitivity of Pastor Bock (R.D. Reid) was a great example of Jesus’ love in action. Have you ever experienced such love through a pastor or church?


Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church  on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit


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