Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

In case you missed it, Lars and the Real Girl is a twee indie film about an emotionally crippled young man who believes that a sex doll is his girlfriend. He calls her Bianca, claims she was raised by missionaries in Brazil, and pushes her around in a wheelchair. The spectacle is so pathetic that everyone in the nameless Midwestern town plays along, from his brother to the local doctor to the pastor. As he heals, Bianca grows “sick” and eventually “dies,” paving the way for Lars to pursue a real flesh and blood lass.

Ryan Gosling is the best thing about this flick, delivering a solid, sympathetic performance for a character that could have easily become the freakish butt of cruel jokes. But the movie wears its Capra influences on its sleeve and it grows a little tiresome by the end. The townspeople are so understanding of Lars and his strange delusion that my suspension of disbelief started to fray. Especially towards the end of the film when Bianca was sent to the hospital in an ambulance. I doubt that any HMO would have covered that. It seems like the filmmakers had a crazy idea (Lars loves a sex doll) and then did everything in their power to smooth the set up of any sharp, jarring edges.

I wonder what the film would have been like if Lars weren’t such an obvious basket case and he was not deluded into believing that Bianca was a real girl. Instead, Lars was consciously in love with a silicone and plastic doll. It’s an unsettling thought, not just because it seems so alien but also because it seems so familiar. Who didn’t have a teddy bear or Tickle Me Elmo as a kid? Whose childhood memories don’t have moments of real love and tenderness towards these dolls? And who doesn’t feel a twinge of sadness at the sight of these dolls now? What makes a discarded toys have more pathos than, say, a pitched shoe. (I have a Grover doll in a box in the closet that, I will never throw out) Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg’s wildly underrated A.I. mines these primal loves and fears with particular ruthlessness. We need to love. And if the people around us can’t completely fill that void (and inevitably, they can’t) we fill that void with things – be they sports cars, cools shoes, or buxom sex dolls named Bianca.

This all reminded me of a Savage Love column I read a couple weeks ago that referenced David Levy’s sort of new book Love and Sex with Robots. It speculates that in the near future we will regularly be having sex with and fall in love with robots that are essentially a couple generations above the Real Doll featured in Lars and the Real Girl. The argument for sexbots is pretty obvious if uncomfortable – guilt-free prostitutes that will cater to any fantasy and have no diseases. And given the perverse creativity of humans, there’s no limiting these robots to adult human forms. There are already sex dolls in the form of (shudder) children for sale in Japan. And I’m once the idea catches on, we will start seeing shemale sexbots, robo-dog and horse sexbots and then from there real weirdness like centaurs, unicorns and hobbits. With sex, love often (though not always) follows. Levy argues that in a couple decades we will start seeing human-robot marriages. A development that will no doubt give the Family Values crowd conniptions. Then again, according to some theorists, in a couple decades the line separating human and robot will quickly start to blur. But that’s another entry.

Garfield Factor: President James A. Garfield finds the whole subject distasteful and refuses to delve any further in the matter.

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