Lars and the Real Girl – Are We All Delusional?

Posted on May 30, 2008


When this movie showed up in Netflix, my wife was curious what I had rented. Sure. Just read a portion of the synopsis:

Ryan Gosling plays the title character in this oddball comedy about a delusional young man who buys a life-size sex doll over the Internet — and then falls in love with her. When the besotted young man starts telling people that the doll is his girlfriend, his brother and sister-in-law decide it’s time to intervene.

( gave the movie a good review: 80% fresh!)

But, for someone who works with people all the time, and people who are usually in a state of need, this movie surprised me, and intrigued me as it illustrates in a provocative yet touching way, how mental illness, especially delusion plagues us all.

The captivating line in the movie is when the doctor says that mental illness is often not just an “illness” but a way of communicating — for help, for compassion, for companionship, etc.

SANITY IS A SPECTRUM: This movie illuminated for me the dynamics of this kind of communication and the dysfunctional communication that exists all around us. And is it really dysfunction? Could it simply be diversity — that all of us ultimately fail to really touch base with the fullness of reality? Perhaps sanity is a spectrum, and the only way we are able to make degenerative evaluations of someone’s sanity is to look down the scale, rather than up. But ought we not recognize that we’re all on the same plane? I imagine, most of us fall somewhere in the middle, and it’s easier to evaluate someone who is less attached with reality than ourselves, than someone who is more.

COMMUNAL INSANITY: The spectrum was again illuminated by the scene of the gathered church folk, who, when discussing what they were going to do with Lars as part of the community, were reminded that everyone in the circle, no matter how weird you think Lars is, has someone close to them who suffers from some kind of delusion, some kind of detachment. What makes Lars so different, except that it may be more extreme, or more public, or less common?

COMMUNAL RESPONSE: How the rest of the community responds, then, by accepting, not fighting against Lars, is a moving ethic in the film. The movie portrays, in parable form, how delusion and reality are really closely related. To deal with someone in our community who may be a little removed from reality requires us to enter into their world as if it is reality (because for them, it is). It is through that level of engagement, that we help, not only them, but ourselves as well. And if we deny that kind of reality, we are more delusional than we believe.

I AM DELUSIONAL: So, who is really mentally ill? Who really is delusional? While there are some who really can be diagnosed with particular mental disabilities, most of us fall in this category of, “not quite sure how off-base we really are.” The irony, and paradox, which I love, is that we are all delusional, to some degree. And perhaps the real delusion belongs to those who think, believe, and live as if that were not so.