Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Lars and the Real Girl" and the "Real Rural"

Yesterday I had the pleasure of seeing an excellent film, "Lars and the Real Girl," starring Ryan Gosling. The film is about a young man, Lars, who lives in a rural town somewhere in a northern region populated by the descendants of Nordic families.

He keeps to himself, works in a nondescript job, and drives an old car. One day his life changes when he orders Bianca, a life-sized doll, from the Internet. He manifested a delusion that he was ordering a real girl, a Brazilian missionary in a wheelchair. When she arrives, he starts referring to her as his girlfriend. Much to the shock of everyone in his little town, he takes her to parties, speaks with her as though she is real, and expects his brother and sister-in-law to bathe, clothe, and feed her. The premise is a little strange, but the movie is so touching -- and it reflects some of the best aspects of rural life -- that I would highly recommend it.

The most heartwarming part of the movie is that everyone in town goes to great lengths to welcome Bianca and, underneath it all, to show their love for Lars. They start treating her like a real girl, and in doing so, Lars realizes that he is truly loved. You can read a synopsis and see a trailer of the movie here.

As I watched this film, I couldn't help but think about the way rural themes shaped the story line. The fact that the town rallied around this young man with a mental illness shows the rural value of independence and the preference to "take care of our own." In a suburban or urban setting, I suspect a family member would have been much more likely to take Lars to a hospital or treatment center. But here, Lars's brother and sister-in-law seek the services of the kindly doctor, who is also a psychologist ("You have to be, this far north," one character tells us .) The religiosity of the people -- social life revolved around the church --is also a strong rural theme that unifies this town. And, the informal communication networks (a kind version of a "rumor mill") played an instrumental role when Bianca fell ill.

I was curious about whether others had written about the rural angle of this film, so I did some research and found this article by Utah-based film critic Eric D. Snider. In reviewing the film, he wrote, "You have to take the film as a fable and not as a strictly realistic account of rural America. It's valid to point out that in real life there's no way the entire town would humor Lars -- but only because in real life, 'entire towns' don't do anything. You accept it as a necessary element of the story."

I disagree with Snider's idea that "entire towns" don't do anything. In this tiny town, which may well have had fewer than 100 people, the entire town may have in fact rallied around Lars. We just don't know. We do know that several dozen people from church and work all cared deeply about this young man. It was easy for the community to rally around Lars because he looked like they did -- he is white and of Nordic ancestry. Lars and his family are insiders and rural communities tend to support those who have established themselves in the region.

I refuse to believe that the kindness of the rural residents in the film is part of a larger "fable." A strong sense of community spirit is a uniquely rural value and one that I hope never leaves rural communities. I firmly believe -- and hope -- that somewhere in America, members of rural towns still rush to the assistance of those who are sick and need help.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

just saw Lars and the Real Girl, Gosling did a great job playing out his character's psychological transitions... it was considerate of the movie's producers to leave out the predictable "small-town conflict" element as well