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Loneliness and a fear of being touched by humans is something I know a little bit about. Not nearly enough to imagine making a movie about a young man who falls in love with a Real Doll, but the premise of this script didn't put me off at all. While watching it, I felt as if it was a film which was walking on a high wire and just the right gust of wind could put it off balance and make it unwatchable. However, just before that would happen, the scene would shift and the soundtrack would lull you into a sort of coma of acceptance and an actor or actress would smile just the right way or say just the right thing to bring the whole thing back into some sort of unsteady but stable and perhaps even exquisite equilibrium.

It would be impossible to give spoilers here, because you can pretty much see what is going to happen once you figure out the dynamics going on between the characters. Simply put, a young man in a very small and very cold town (in Alaska, perhaps?) who is very lonely, even though he has a wonderful heart and a pretty face, winds up in a relationship with a Real Doll; one of those plastic love dolls that some of you naughty boys and grown boys who are reading this right now probably either own or have "borrowed" from a friend who does. Hopefully, not too many of you. But some of you, for sure. After all, articles have been published within the last year -- serious scholarly articles -- predicting "sex with realistic robots" in our near future. In a world where we seem to be cut off from each other more and more as time goes by; in a world where we know our neighbors less and less and God knows what all is going on in the house right next door to you where you don't even know their last names; in a world where online pretend relationships become more important than real-life touching and feeling ones; who can doubt that this script could pop into a screenwriter's head when she sees a website that is promoting a companion with skin that feels almost human and fully functional orifices along with customizable features?

Thankfully, in Lars and the Real Girl, I don't believe Bianca, the Real Doll, ever actually gets anything poked into her. That's another good thing about the script. She comes to represent an idea instead of a sex object, and the idea is based on the love this small town has for a broken boy. Of course, this all could never happen in real life. There would be some bully or some misanthrope who would throw cold water on the whole deal and ruin it for everyone. But just as you are thinking thoughts such as this, the scene will shift and the soundtrack will lull you into a sort of coma of acceptance and an actor or actress will smile just the right way or say just the right thing to blot out your inner demons and make you realize that life is really a wonderful thing when we try to help instead of hurt.

I never watched the old TV show Northern Exposure very much, but my memories of what I did see of that show are of a small and very cold town (in Alaska) where there was a lot of love between the characters and a very wise doctor and a soothing soundtrack and a feeling that can only be called quirky cute.

Lars and the Real Girl is quirky cute as good as it gets. In fact, if you get through this movie without crying, you might need to spend some time in a small cold town where everyone knows you and you cannot afford to be anonymous. A place where you might find that getting help from and giving help to your neighbors really isn't such an outdated idea.

Director: Craig Gillespie
Writer: Nancy Oliver

Ryan Gosling as Lars Lindstrom
Emily Mortimer as Karin Lindstrom
Paul Schneider as Gus Lindstrom
Kelli Garner as Margo
Patricia Clarkson as Dagmar the doctor

Released in October of 2007
Now available on DVD

I wondered if Lars didn't fall in love per se with the doll, but rather the concept of having her as his girlfriend was a defense mechanism, kind of like a way to cope with the pressure he felt from his sister in law about having regular dinners at his brother's house, and also the pressure and contradicting emotions he felt from the interest shown by the girl in his office.

For most people, when confronted with the choice of starting a romantic relationship, contradictory feelings do surface. This might be magnified for Lars, given that he is (portrayed as) socially awkward.

The doll served as a buffer between him and the community he lives in. He was able to socialise. Perhaps he felt less intimidated and lonely when he has someone who he can talk to. Talking to an imaginary person/doll is more acceptable than talking to the air or to plants, it seems. It certainly garners a whole lot more understanding and compassion from people who see it as a desperate kind of loneliness.

Perhaps also, the doll was a trial phase for Lars. He did get to practise 'caring' for the doll and he did tentatively learn how to act around people as a couple. Viewed in this manner, he was being practical, and he had the advantage of being misunderstood/unfathomable yet accommodated simply because he was strange.

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