Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fixing Lars

"Lars and the Real Girl" is a great movie. Dysfunctional guy buys sex-doll and relates to her as if she's real, but over time finds himself longing for something more alive than latex can provide; it might not sound very compelling, but it somehow is. Casting, acting, script, and direction all combine to create a film so well executed that I was completely drawn in.

"Lars", though, isn't really about Lars very much at all, and certainly not about latex lady. The main theme seems to be centered around the question, "How do we support, help, and empower those with mental illness to move towards healing?" That, of course, is a big question, answered by both the "Lars" film, and another recent film ("Reign Over Me"), in the same way: friendship and acceptance.

In both movies the theme seems to be that healing will happen, in its time, if the right conditions are provided for such. The right conditions, we learn, are: support, unconditional acceptance, love, and relationship. It was beautiful to see the community gather around "Lars" and play along, welcoming the doll into their small town as a genuine member of their community. Indeed, scene after scene illustrated the healing capacities a community can have when, together, they love those in their midst who are in need.

It's all very good and touching. But as much as I loved the movie, when it was over I found myself saying, "Really? Does it really work to simply play along with people's delusions until they come to sense reality? Is that really how this is supposed to play out? Are we supposed to let those who are stuck in fantasy world's remain stuck until, on their own, they see the destructive nature of it?"

I think of Nathan the prophet confronting David with his sin of adultery and subsequent cover up. Far from sharing a few beers and pretending that all is well, Nathan points his bony finger at David and accuses him. Paul does the same thing with Peter. Jesus does the same thing with his disciples...more than once.

No, I don't think that the road to healing always includes jabbing a finger into someone's chest and poking hard until they see the truth. But I don't think it always includes playing along with fantasies either. My problem resides in knowing when 'accept' and 'play along' and when to confront; when to speak and when to be silent. Surely love demands both responses, depending on the circumstance, but knowing which response is appropriate requires more than love; it requires wisdom.



At 24/6/08 10:35, Anonymous Marty said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I'm a pastor on the east coast (Massachusetts). I found your blog through a couple in my church from your area who reads your blog. I appreciate what you have to say. Here is a just a quick note I wrote about the movie.

At 24/6/08 12:17, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is such a great entry. I saw Lars and the Real Girl a few months ago and I went away with a similar thought about relationship and healing (and even confrontation).

This film was actually a good challenge for me because it's always been easier for me to pinpoint the symptoms rather than the disease: With Lars, the town let him have his delusion for a while because there was a bigger concept that he needed to work through.

I don't think it's always appropriate for us to allow or encourage people's "delusions." But it's also been a lot easier for me to see some sort of "wrong action" and jump in to address it, when what I really need to do is to figure out what the Meta-Issues are and negotiate those first. Sometimes the symptoms/delusions go away once the disease is cured.

At 24/6/08 21:30, Blogger Geoff said...

Hi Richard, I really enjoyed this movie as well. Regarding your comment, I wonder if there isn't a more basic truth at work... namely, that every one of us lives in a fantasy world to some extent, and the process of bringing people "back to reality", so to speak, is connected to our commitment to making sure that they remain in contact with their community, (i.e. the most real world around them).

What struck me about the movie was the way Lars' family, friends, church, etc. remained engaged with him as a person, even when it was extremely uncomfortable. That makes me wonder whether much of what we call "mental illness" (or physical illness for that matter) might be alleviated to a large extent if people remained engaged with each other as people, rather than (as you aptly pointed out this past Sunday) reducing them to categories, like "the mentally imbalanced guy" or "the depressed girl."

There are extreme cases that require serious intervention, of course, but I think this is an area where there is a vast opportunity to reflect Christ all around us, and so often (especially in a city like Seattle?) we choose to ignore that engaging with others, because we have more important things to do. I wonder how much the Good Samaritan's actions not only helped the physical state, but the mental state, of the injured man? We aren't told, but...

anyway, just some random thoughts.

At 25/6/08 08:29, Blogger bunabear said...

Richard, I seem to be the only one so far who wasn't seen this movie.
But your post really touched me.

My husband and I have several situations and people in our lives where a great deal of wisdom and discernment are needed before we respond or wait....

You write:

"Surely love demands both responses, depending on the circumstance, but knowing which response is appropriate requires more than love; it requires wisdom"

I can turn this into a prayer.

Under God's grace.

At 26/6/08 17:14, Anonymous Kristi said...

Thanks for your post, Richard. I was profoundly touched by the extent to which Lars' community surrounded and supported him despite the odd circumstance. I was surprised that a whole community decided to come together and love Lars at a time when it would have been just as easy to band together and leave Lars, the odd duck, out.

I appreciated your thoughts on the need for wisdom in determining when to wait and play along and when to confront in love. I agree with bunabear - it's only in prayer that we can be in tune with what response God might be directing us towards.

Thanks again for your reflections!

At 26/6/08 17:27, Anonymous davey said...

Thanks for this post...and I agree it's a great movie.

I just have two thoughts:

1. A significant proportion of those homeless and on the streets have mental illnesses. Unfortunately these mental illnesses are quite different (and I would argue more severe) than the one portrayed so eloquently in this movie. These illnesses make them social outcasts who are almost impossible to talk to, unless we try REALLY hard. It takes huge effort to reach out to those unlike ourselves.

One of the most powerful parts of the movie is when Lars' sister-in-law reaches out to him from the very beginning, before the 'real girl' shows up and when he's clearly messed up. She tries again and again...with little progress made. I admire that a lot, and that's usually what's needed with people with mental illnesses.

2. How many friends do we have with mental illnesses or other disabilities? Or, would we rather not deal with them and place them in a locked hospital ward, nursing home, or on the streets? It's hard work to work with the mentally ill.


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