Print Story Lars and the Real Girl
By Alan Crowe (Sun Apr 06, 2008 at 12:40:46 PM EST) (all tags)

I went to see the movie on Friday. Lars buys a Real Doll, and the small town rallies round to help him through the emotional crisis of which this is a symptom.

I enjoy sex with Lena, my huge, soft-toy lioness. I wanted the film to be about a lonely middle-aged man out of the work-force and out of the dating scene due to chronic illness finding warm, soft, snuggly love where he can. Lars and the Real Girl is not that film.

I enjoyed the film and intended this diary entry to be a positive review, yet as I think about it more I think that this "good hearted" film has a morally rotten core.

Reviews are easy to find

The Hollywood Reporter
... heart of gold ...
... a painful, yet inspirational film that mustn't be missed.
The New York Times
An unfavourable review. "Lars's anguish has nothing to do with the loneliness of small towns or alienation in the modern world or even real pain; ..., he suffers without disquieting fuss or messy fluids.
Reel Views
A movie buff review, which embraces the skill displayed in practicing the movie makers art, but without considering artistic truth. "...the key here is that, while there are laughs to be had, Lars and the Real Girl is intended to be taken seriously. This is not a rude, crude, lewd comedy."
Pop Matters
A skeptical review: The film is very careful not to make Lars at all kinky or sexed: he doesn't put Bianca to the use for which she has been designed.
The Green
A strangely distanced review, perhaps more aimed at cinema owners than cinema goers.
The reviewer identifies the story as a fairy-tale
...and Oliver's story is even sadder in the way it crafts a beautiful, fairy-tale world for Lars as he suffers what clearly becomes a kind of delusional crisis. The townsfolk are deferent to Lars and Bianca, asking him how she's doing and inviting the pair to parties in a way that underscores the tangled emotions at work and highlights just how different this fictional haven is from the real world,...
and approves whole-heartedly
Lars and the Real Girl is a good film in the truest sense of the word: It exudes warmth and forgiveness and even a sense of atonement, of sacrifices made for the sake of reuniting what's been broken

Looking back at the ruins of my life, I recall that dating was always a nightmare, long before I fell ill. I had a pattern of hanging around in unconsumated relationships that were not progressing. On the internet today this gets called "being in the friend zone."

I lacked clarity about the fact that I was looking for a sexual relationship. Clearly, if the woman didn't fancy me, I had to move on. I couldn't change the sexual chemistry by being nice to her, but I never saw that. Somehow the circles I grew up in, moved in, the friends I chose, were not the sexy circles. Love was emasculated into romance; the missing bits went undiscussed, the suppressed emotions too embarrassing for any possibility of admitting that they were both legitimate and important.

I lived in an emasculated, fairy tale world, in which a man could buy a Real Doll and not fuck it. Well not exactly that, but an asexual world in which a man could enjoy a movie in which the central male character buys a Real Doll but doesn't fuck it. Whoops! I haven't really changed. I try, but I haven't really escaped my past.

In the film Lars is the dysfunctional product of a broken home. The home is broken by medical problems. His mother dies in childbirth.

In real life marriages break up over sexual problems. Perhaps the wife wearies of sex and does not comprehend its importance to her husband. Perhaps the marriage fails there; "lie back and think of England" is no longer fashionable marriage guidance. Perhaps the husband tries to keep the marriage together by visiting a prostitute. If it comes out it will be treated as a betrayal, not an attempt to reach a practical solution to mismatched sex drives.

Raking the embers of my life I find early choices shaping later choices, the friends I chose, the movies we watched, maintaining a psychological consistency, for better or worse. The bad choices denied legitimacy to men's sexual needs and refused to accept sex as an ordinary part of life.

Lars and the Real Girl seems familiar, cosy and, nice, in a nightmarish, Cthulhu is eating my brain, sort of way. The hormones, secretions, and lust of real life are absent from the film. I feel safe with that. Even though I've worked out that my comfort zone is a trap and I need to break free, I have nevertheless gone to the cinema and enjoyed the film. Lars broke free of his delusion, but I'm trapped in mine.

I imagine socially awkward, sexually repressed, young men seeing this movie and taking home the message that it is OK to be sexually repressed. No it isn't. The movie is evil. Embrace and enjoy your sexuality in all its squishy yuckiness. Do it now while you are young and healthy. Stick to movies that are truthful about human relationships and stay away from sexless fairy tales such as Lars and the Real Girl.

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Lars and the Real Girl | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 hidden)
You make it sound pathetic, not evil by jxg (2.00 / 0) #2 Sun Apr 06, 2008 at 02:06:44 PM EST
On the other hand, you make yourself sound evil rather than the intended pathetic.

I suppose it all works out in the end. Except possibly for you.

You're a bit light on the details by Rogerborg (4.00 / 1) #3 Sun Apr 06, 2008 at 03:02:50 PM EST
I mean, what sort of lube do you use with your plushie partner?

Metus amatores matrum compescit, non clementia.
Protesting against silence by Alan Crowe (3.25 / 4) #6 Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 02:57:41 AM EST
I mentioned Lena as a protest against silence about sex. Silence in the twee movie I watched, silence in my upbringing and in the circles in which I've confined myself ever since.

I've become slightly unhinged from reading about Elliot Spitzer and all the Republican gay sex scandals. As attorney general, Spitzer had prosecuted prostitution and fulminated against it. Similarly with Republicans and gay sex. Looking back I see that I've been had. I believed all that that. Not that I agreed, but I thought those guys were for real.

I think it is fair to say that I've been naïve. Others have understood full well that men love sex, and that the men denying it are either lying to fit in with a dishonest culture or are deranged by living in that dishonest culture.

I can't help noticing that there are few people to look up to here. Others may well understand but they are happy enough to shelter below the parapet and keep the silence.

So I mention Lena, not as confession or self disclosure, but as advocacy and activism. Lonely and disabled? Don't settle for pornography and five fingered masturbation. Buy yourself toys that turn you on and enjoy!

For 47 years I've listened respectfully as authority figures tell ludicrous lies about sex and my sin has been to believe them. Now I want to celebrate sex in all its weird and wonderful forms. If you really want the details of sexual practises with which you are unfamiliar, then I'm happy to tell you. If you want to mock me into silence, you are choosing to side with Foley, Craig, Haggard, Allen, Murphy, et al.

[ Parent ]
READING COMPREHENSION by Rogerborg (4.00 / 0) #7 Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 04:06:15 AM EST
What. Lube?

Metus amatores matrum compescit, non clementia.
[ Parent ]
I won't mock you by johnny (4.00 / 1) #4 Sun Apr 06, 2008 at 03:36:11 PM EST
Everybody who has commented so far seems to think that you're either goofing (i.e. trolling), or that what you're saying is funny.

I'm willing to take the risk that you're not goofing, in which case what you're saying is not funny, but poignant and useful advice. Thank you.

It's not advice for me; when I was younger, at least after age 23 or so, I had no trouble getting laid & having complex adult relationships with women. And then I got married, & now I've been married for a long, long time. The problems of Lars and people like him are not mine, thank God, although I have plenty of other problems, if you're keeping score. In any event, I agree with your analysis and advice.

And if you're trolling, I still agree.
Buy my books, dammit!

Advice for 10% by Alan Crowe (2.00 / 0) #5 Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 02:02:24 AM EST
I think that 90% of teenagers go through a rebellious phase. They reject the advice of parents and society. They shed their guilt about sex, drink, other drugs, driving too fast, and defying authority. Sometimes this works out very badly.

Meanwhile parents and society exaggerate their warnings, hoping to get through to their rebellious children. The 10% of trusting teenagers suffer collateral misinformation. It can be hard to recover from this, because the core insight is that one was always an oddball, outside the mainstream dialogue between anxious parents and rebellious teens. Messages you took at face value were, it turns out, heavily spun and directed at a different audience.

Most people do sort themselves out, whether it is 90%ers calming down, or 10%ers loosening up. Looking around, people become losers when they are caught in a pincer movement, with two problems.

Vague general example: alcohol. People cope with bereavement, depression, redundancy and unemployment. The danger with drinking alcohol is that it is always ready to stab you in the back and open a second front against you.

Specific example: An acquaintance, whose bipolar disorder was quite well controlled by medication. Unfortunately she also had to get over an abusive childhood. The two problems interacted. To overcome her childhood she had to back her own judgement against the "rules" she had  grown up with. Meanwhile, to avoid disaster in her manic phases she needed to be cautious about backing her own judgement and defer to family and friends. Tricky!

So I felt cheated by Lars and the Real Girl. It aspired to be an inspiring tale of some-one coming through their trial. Two of the reviews were unfavourable because they felt that the way that the village rallied round was unrealistic. I have a different criticism. He only had one problem to get over. Most people manage that kind of challenge. It was dishonest as a "triumph over adversity" movie because the protagonist only had to fight on one front. Family, doctor, villagers were all covering his flank and rear.

Sorting out personal problems is urgent work. In real life shit happens. If you let things drift long enough something else will go wrong in your life and then you are fighting on two fronts and things are a lot harder.

On the other hand, the things we do to try and sort out our personal problems often make them worse. I've knocked around Buddhist circles for a while and remember a man who had been in hospital for depression more than once. His preference was for Zen Buddhism. Its quietism and austerity let the depressed understand symptoms of lethargy and ahedonia as spiritual progress. I suspect this does quite a lot of harm.

A tough question for me is whether my own involvement with Buddhism has done me more harm than good. Traditional Buddhist monasticism is celibate, and understands that as not just refraining from sexual intercourse, but also refraining from masturbation. How did I ever imagine that this was a reasonable idea? I can look back and speculate about the psychology: unsuccessful with women => join cult that says sex is bad anyway, give it up and forget about it. A serious case of sour grapes. Well, maybe, but I've only dabbled in Buddhism, meditating, but never a monk. It is hard to understand ones own life, one is too close to the action.

[ Parent ]
Not much of a difference from your by jxg (2.00 / 0) #8 Mon Apr 07, 2008 at 07:32:48 AM EST
unsuccessful with women => throw away your humanity piecewise in order to fuck other subhumans and eventually forget about it.

Your review reeks of sour grapes, but in both cases of sexually frustrated manly masculine men (viz, you and the monks) it wasn't ever actually the technique that was at fault.

Watched the movie last night and thought it was sentimental to the point of being maudlin. While some people, like your monks and dmg's simpletons, should simply castrate themselves to stop ruining sex for the rest of us, Mr. Lars should simply have been encouraged to commit suicide.

[ Parent ]
Simplicity and contentment by Alan Crowe (2.00 / 0) #10 Tue Apr 08, 2008 at 04:13:03 AM EST

That is the standard Buddhist story, that we have attachments to all sorts of things and sex is one among many. But the body sends many messages. Let us listen to some of them.

PENIS: Hands off, I'm sore
SEMINAL VESICALS: We've only got three cubic millimeters of watery crap left, come back next week.

OK, that is attachment to sex.

SEMINAL VESICALS: We are full and ready for action.

SEMINAL VESICALS: Overpressure warning, suggest manual relief

SEMINAL VESICALS: For THROB gods THROB sake THROB open THROB the THROB manual THROB relief THROB valve.
SLEEP CENTRE: Stop that bloody throbbing, I'm not a miracle worker.
COMMANDER SV: Its no good, the brain's got a mememtic disorder, flood the corpus cavernosum No1, we'll use the stretch receptors in the glans to trigger the emergency over-ride in the spinal column.
1ST OFFICIER SV: Arterial sphincters not responding, sir.
COMMANDER SV: Damn, the brain is really fucking things up tonight, double the nitrous oxide.
1ST OFFICIE SV: Aye, aye sir.

Not OK, thats not attachment to sex, it's self hatred and masochism, an attachment to failure and self-reproach

[ Parent ]
Oh, really? by Alan Crowe (4.00 / 1) #12 Mon Apr 14, 2008 at 07:57:17 AM EST
Reading Sangharakshita's memoirs, the more senior monks' attempts at celibacy seemed to be a succession of train wrecks. Other faiths do no better.

Perhaps the problem is revealled by your question: why would you want to? People work hard at something that is not worthwhile, before failing/giving up.

[ Parent ]
Not very celibate myself by mwengler (2.00 / 0) #13 Tue Jun 15, 2010 at 03:55:32 PM EST
Is it clear that the purpose of having a standard of celibacy is best met by succeeding at it?  

It seems likely to me that there is more than one response possible to not succeeding, that feelings of guilt and inadequacy are not the only options.  

It seems likely to me that reacting with feelings of guilt and inadequacy, and somehow getting past that, would have some real value.  

I think I went a month once.  I was a lot younger then and I think I popped in my sleep when I went that long.   

[ Parent ]
Lars and the Real Girl | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 hidden)