29 November 2009

Lars and the Real Girl by Gillespie, 2007

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 4:07 am

I imagine this movie stripped of all the communitarian big-heartedness and psychological healing. Leave everything as it is, minus the parts about how nutty Lars is and what should be done about it.




  1. So….what’s left?


    Comment by Erdman — 4 December 2009 @ 5:19 pm

  2. Hey Erdman. Well, Lars takes Bianca out of the box, brings her to dinner at his brother’s house, takes her to the party, etc. etc., Bianca gets sick and dies. The community accepts Bianca, without any implication that they’re helping Lars work out his troubles. She gets a full social calendar, gets a makeover, Lars gets pissed because she’s too busy for him, and so on. No?

    Then you get to decide whether to play it for laughs — the easy route — or to play it straight — which might be cooler. Then we could analyze it in Lacanian terms — the woman does not exist, there is no sexual relation.


    Comment by john doyle — 4 December 2009 @ 5:24 pm

  3. And you can’t analyze it in Lacanian terms as the story now stands?


    Comment by Erdman — 5 December 2009 @ 9:47 am

  4. Sure. How might that go? Lars feels a sense of lack, of loss And everyone around him recognizes that there’s something missing in Lars. The writer encourages us to trace this sense of loss to Lars’s childhood, when his mother died in childbirth and his father cut Lars off from affection. It’s an Oedipus thing: Lars took his mother away from his father, and the father castrated the son. So Lars is missing a phallus, which was associated with his mother.

    Bianca stands in for what’s missing in Lars, what might make him whole again. But it’s a projection. For Lacan it’s always a projection: the “real girl” of romantic fulfillment never exists. She’s an object, not a subject. Eventually the projection wears off for Lars, and Bianca recedes back into objecthoood; i.e., she dies. But still Lars doesn’t reject the projection: the missing piece has shifted from Bianca to the other girl. And so now she will become the “real girl” of Lars’s projection, but whatever reality she brings to the relationship will recede. For Lars this other girl too will become an object of self-fulfillment, not a subject of interpersonal relationship. That sort of thing. What do you think, Erdman?


    Comment by john doyle — 5 December 2009 @ 10:25 am

  5. I like.


    It helps me put Lacanian theory to a specific narrative. That’s helpful.

    A few follow up questions.

    K: Lars feels a sense of lack, of loss And everyone around him recognizes that there’s something missing in Lars.

    To phrase it like this makes it sound like something is missing in Lars, which presumes that everyone around Lars has something, something that he is missing. Is this the case?

    Next question.

    For Lacan is the entire personality built around loss? In other words, are all of the elements of our personality the result of compensating for loss? Is all human development built around loss? And, if so, what are the ramifications? Do we try to repair the loss? Or is that just more compensation?


    Comment by Erdman — 6 December 2009 @ 2:15 pm

  6. Lars believes that others either have or are the thing that he lacks, which is the phallus. The men have it, and he sees himself as a loser in comparison. Bianca IS “that obscure object of desire,” namely the phallus that he lacks.

    And yes, I’d say that for Lacan personality or ego is always constructed around loss and compensation for it. These compensatory moves are always doomed to failure. Is there a way out? No. Is there a way through, an acknowledgment of a void at the core of the self that must first of all be confronted? Yes, I believe so, though I’m not quite sure what it is. I’d propose, however, that the reienvisioned Lars story not point to a way out or through. To make more of a pointed statement, we could have the girl in Lars’s office — the one who seems to be next in line as Lars’s object of desire — be transformed at the end into a mannequin.

    In this movie what we get instead of an analytic story is a therapeutic one. Bianca is a transitional object, helping Lars move beyond his crippling isolation. The doctor and the whole town function as therapists, gently helping Lars become fully human, fully social. We’re presuming that, at the end, Lars is now ready for a relationship with a REAL girl. But what if not? Might be cool, if rather more cynical.


    Comment by john doyle — 6 December 2009 @ 2:53 pm

  7. Not that we didn’t enjoy the movie as is. And Anne and Kenzie both think that my proposed script-doctoring is stupid.


    Comment by john doyle — 6 December 2009 @ 3:41 pm

  8. Okay. Yes, that clears things up.

    On a Lacanian interpretation and from a psychoanalytic perspective, the movie is not quite as truthful (or as interesting) as it could be. The implication is that if we can attain the object of desire then we can become complete. The movie is not as neatly tied off as it could be–there could have been a scene where Lars and the real girl are enjoying life together, getting married, having kids, and living happily ever after. Thank god it isn’t that blatant. But the implication is still there.

    I enjoyed the movie as well, but I now see where you are coming from. Insightful. More in a moment.


    Comment by Erdman — 7 December 2009 @ 10:03 am

  9. K: Is there a way through, an acknowledgment of a void at the core of the self that must first of all be confronted? Yes, I believe so, though I’m not quite sure what it is.

    The Lacanian idea of a void at the core of the self strikes me as having a good deal of parallels to eastern philosophy/religion in general and Buddhism in particular. The teaching of anatta or “no self” is the idea that what we are is merely the intersection of many different forces, a convergence of desire, consciousness, etc. All of our history come together at this one point, the present. There is no enduring “self,” only consciousness, sensation, memory, etc. Many Buddhist traditions build their spirituality around a meditation on our own transience, our own emptiness. It’s not this way across the board, of course, like any ancient religion/philosophy there are many different takes on how this works out. For example, some schools of thought carry forward a distinct atman or “soul.” This creates some sort of a tension, in my opinion….but I digress.

    For Buddhism, the response to the transience and uncertainties of life (in general) and to anatta (in particular) is to let go of the desire for a self. In Lacanian terms, it would be to accept the fact that there is no core to the self. It is suggested that emptying one’s self in this way creates a certain inner spaciousness. Rather than longing for what one cannot attain (a core self, phallus, etc.), one becomes content simply being a no self, content and at peace with being empty, accepting the limitations of our finite existence.

    This would fly in the face of much of popular Christianity, specifically evangelicalism. In the twentieth century, we kind of put all of our eggs in the God-is-the-meaning-of-life basket. So, God becomes the one who fills up the emptiness of life, who gives us a core.

    I think the new testament, though, might give us reason to question this and to think more about emptiness. Paul speaks of being crucified with Christ. This suggests some form of “no self,” in my opinion. Also, Paul speaks of Jesus’ kenosis, how he emptied himself and became human. Paul says that we should take this same attitude. Presumably, the humility that empties itself.


    Good discussion.


    Comment by Erdman — 7 December 2009 @ 10:20 am

  10. I was reading this on a phone and hit my head on a sign post.


    Comment by NB — 7 December 2009 @ 12:34 pm

    • Hey, nobody said there weren’t risks, NB. Movie discussion is a dangerous game. I hope you’ll give us a self-analysis as to why you unconsciously wanted to hurt yourself while reading this thread.


      Comment by john doyle — 7 December 2009 @ 1:27 pm

  11. Erdman, I think that the Buddha and Lacan agree that there’s a void and no Big Other who’s going to fill it. Both also regard ego as a false attempt to fill the void. But whereas, as I understand it, Buddhism encourages a tranquil acceptance without being rocked by the vicissitudes desire, Lacanian analysis wants people to open themselves up to desire flowing through them. There’s an acceptance not just that desire might not achieve fulfillment, but also that desire is what animates us. So I suppose Lars as Buddhist might come to disregard his attractions to women, while Lars as Lacanian might pursue them without expect them to lead to fulfillment. Or something like that.


    Comment by john doyle — 7 December 2009 @ 4:40 pm

  12. Good point. The thing I would add, however, is that Buddhism is very diverse. The Buddha’s original point was that desire is the cause of all suffering. Yes, there seems to be a good deal of Buddhists who seek to rid themselves of desire, however, I think that those I would respect the most would open themselves to desire, not try to suppress it. But this definitely gives me food for thought. I do agree that desire is what animates us. I am also skeptical of ever reaching a desire-free state of being, i.e., enlightenment…..but who knows.

    Then there is my other question that I wanted you to weigh in on: What would Paul say?


    Comment by Erdman — 8 December 2009 @ 11:50 am

  13. I think it’s a worthy question, Erdman, to explore what Paul’s view on desire might have been. Is desire something like inspiration = in-spirited, the inner movement of spirit that’s castrated and perverted by law? Or does desire = lust = something that must be suppressed? I did some exploration of this theme in my writings on the “new creation” — perhaps you’ll take up this mantle in your Galatians project.

    An issue you might consider as you go through your great novels project is the relationship that ideas, beliefs, ideologies, and so on have to fiction. Is a novel more or less a narrative conduit for ideas that could just as readily be expressed in expository form? Is the Lars story a sort of morality play, an allegory about the healing powers of community? Alternatively, would my proposed rewrite serve primarily to illustrate a Lacanian concept?


    Comment by john doyle — 9 December 2009 @ 4:22 am

  14. Good question.

    I have not thought of drawing some sort of correlation between the spirit and some sort of pure desire. That’s an argument, though, that I think has some Christian roots, actually. Probably have to go to the mystics, though. Most mainstream Protestant theologians and theologies tend to view desire as categorically evil.

    There is an interesting old theological term that doesn’t get used much (at least among Protestants): “concupiscence.” It occurs in the KJV three times: Rom 7:8, Col 3:5 and 1 Thess 4:5.

    Romans 7:8 is one of our interests, “But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.”

    Protestants conflated concupiscence with the so-called sin nature, so the term fell out of use in favor of just “sin nature.” Every desire we have is evil. All desire gets swept under the rug. The Holy Spirit can cause us to have good desires, but everything “natural” is evil.

    The view of Rome has been different, though I don’t know that I understand it as well as I would like (perhaps owing to differences within Roman Catholic theology). It seems as though the Catholic view is to see concupiscence as any yearning or desire, which could be good. The inclination of human nature, however, is to turn this concupiscence into sinful desire. So, if we start with this Roman Catholic view of concupiscence, then there seems to be some sense in which desire is redeemable.

    As a side note, I came across this on Aquinas. He describes two divisions of sensuality: Concupiscible and irascible. The former is pursuit/avoidance instincts, associated with emotions like joy and sadness, love and hate, desire and repugnance. Irascible sensuality is the competition/aggression/defense instincts, associated with daring and fear, hope and despair, and anger.


    Comment by Erdman — 14 December 2009 @ 11:11 am

  15. I look forward to your exegesis of Galatians 5:17, Erdman: “for the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit (lusts) against the flesh…” I took a stab at this a couple of years ago in an old post. A key insight perhaps is how closely Paul links “the flesh” to “the Law” in this and other related passages. So there’s a complex of Law-castration-lack-desire that’s sort of Lacanian, and then there’s a spirit-desire that flows freely from desire to satisfaction. “So you may not do what you please,” ends this verse. It’s not because “what you please” is prohibited — you’re dead to the Law after all — but because “what you please” is so bound up in Law and violation and lack that you in effect won’t let yourself reach the fulfillment of desire. So, i.e., being led by the Spirit becomes a different form of desire released from Law that prescribes and prohibits, that sets up the dividing walls of the old creation. These must come down, says Paul.

    Oh and Erdman, this issue of godly desire is directly related to my current post and discussion about Deleuze and Guattari.


    Comment by john doyle — 14 December 2009 @ 11:40 am

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