Monday, October 22, 2007

Lars and the Real Girl

When I told my mother that I went to see a movie (Where were you?) about a man who loved a life-sized doll, she said, "Oh. You went on a busman's holiday." Meaning it's not a holiday when a busman takes a bus.

It's why FD wouldn't see The English Patient.

But she was wrong. Lars and the Real Girl is real professional escapism.

In Chicago this movie is only playing at the Landmark Cinema, 2828 N. Clark Street. I'm telling you this so you should go.

The fact that I got it together, dragged FD to the show, faced the nauseating indoor parking garage (while he made telephone calls), and made the movie on time (autumn construction at every known city artery) is nothing short of a miracle.

Usually, I just stay home.

But I thought, What if it's not released locally? That would be bad. I'd miss it.

And it's PG-13 (!)

Cast includes Ryan Gosling, amazing; Emily Mortimer, so expressive; Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner, Patricia Clarkson, Nancy Beatty, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Karen Robinson, and a host of naturally engaging others playing the townies. Craig Gillespie directs a perfectly spartan script by Nancy Oliver.

The performances are wonderful.

If you work in mental health or are going into one of the mental health professions, or perhaps any health care profession, you want to see this movie. I'll have all of my students watch it and might even see it again, which is not like me.

Lars and the Real Girl is the best movie about a mental disorder since A Beautiful Mind, but much more hopeful.

That's the best thing about it, and there are many good things about it. The story is uplifting for people who have given up hope on loved ones suffering from serious mental disorders. When it seems things are psychotic, life-defining, and irreparable, sometimes they are not.

In my biz we see patients like Gus (Paul Schneider), Lars' brother, broken-hearted, who are sure that all is lost and blame themselves.

Which is wrong.

Seeing this movie will help you understand that there are softer, kinder eco-systemic interventions that make simply sending a sick person off to the doctor seem pathetically remiss treatment of the mentally ill. Not that the family doctor (a captivating performance by Patricia Clarkson) isn't remarkable here. She is. But she's not enough. The best psychiatrist wouldn't have done as good a job, either.

Sublime intervention like you'll see in this film is so rare that for a moment I wondered, Do such things even happen outside of Hollywood? But I know that good therapists can and do put good therapy into motion, they use significant others. That's the trick, you see. Our stage is simply smaller.

One would assume that to exact what you see here requires a deep understanding of what's really going on with the patient. Yet here the town stumbles upon the cure without so much as an introduction to Psychology 101.

Family therapists are known as intrepid screen-writer/directors, such is the nature of their creativity in treatment, especially if they naturally lean towards strategic family therapy. Indeed, a creative therapy is sometimes the only therapy that will work. When a seemingly effortless, yet on-the-mark intervention is uniquely woven into the fabric of a particular context, surprising things happen.

It is what we aspire to as we wonder, crunching the facts of a difficult history, What, oh what in the world, does this person need to get better?

I'd call this an example of unintentional strategic ecosystem family therapy (the freshly coined oxymoron treatment modality of the day, you heard it here first). My tag line?
A close-knit rural community works together and seizes new opportunities to help a young man with his relationship with. . . yes, a doll. Not really knowing why.
FYI, the architects of the formal US social service delivery system, community-based mental health, had nothing on Ms. Oliver, the screenwriter. Lars gets out of his bedroom in a garage and into the world.

But back to me going to the movies.

FD is sitting next to me in the theater. "His treatment would go a lot faster and be a lot cheaper with a little psychotropic intervention."

SHUSH, I say.

It is the town, a very small, cold, snowy, foot tingling town of simple loving, like-minded people who orchestrate the intervention. The sole town family practitioner, nibbling at mid-day sandwiches while talking to her patient, kick starts the process by treating the life-size doll that Lars has ordered from the web, as a patient.

She is not a fancy psychiatrist in a plush downtown Michigan Avenue office, but she does the job splendidly with a little understanding and a lot of love.

That's all the plot you get. You have to spend the ten bucks and see the movie. I'll make this a 2-part post with the salient mental health issues and treatment implications in the next one and won't publish it until most of you have seen the movie or DVD. My hope is that it really does hit theaters near you some time soon, and I'm pretty sure it will. The performances, the direction, the story, everything about this film is, well, perfect.

And I don't idealize movies about mental health.

As I said to FD as we slugged down Devon Avenue from Assyria to India to Pakistan to the kosher pizza shop for overcooked, almost edible falafel,
Theses films are so often negative, depressing, and wrong, or they inappropriately try too hard to be funny. They're too silly and lack empathy, and are clinically off the mark, too, which is why I hate most of them. I loved Lars because not only did it have heart, but because for the most part, it was right.
So no, not a busman's holiday. But a holiday in every sense of the word, a feel-good, people-are-good movie. And the doll, if a little scary at first, kind of grows on you.



The Insighter said...

I agree, most films depicting therapy are horribly inaccurate (Mr. Jones, Mumford, What About Bob, Prince of Tides, etc. etc.) and probably have more to do with the screenwriter's projection than the practice of therapy. But because of your review, I'll give the dummy movie a chance! Thanks,

Anonymous said...

All right, I'll see it! ;) Not sure it'll show here, nor that it'll be shown on a flight, but I'll keep an eye out. Thanks for the tip.

frumhouse said...

The movie you SHOULD be watching about this disorder is the documentary Guys and Dolls:

There is a whole subculture out there (and on the internet) that have dolls as life partners.

Diane said...

Therapydoc, I'm interested in reading the followup to this post re: Lars and the Real Girl where you say you'll address "health issues and treatment implications." How might I access this followup? Thanks. Diane

therapydoc said...

I never wrote it, but you're right, I should. No promises, but it goes on the TO POST list. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Would you say that Lars is schizophrenic or just suffering a delusion? He does not meet full criteria for schizophrenia as he is not hallucinating unless of course, Bianca's voice is considered a hallucination.

therapydoc said...

No, not schizophrenia, and in my book, not a delusion. I think sometimes a person knows the reality of the situation (in this case that she was a doll, not a girl) and doesn't care. It's fun and good, live or not, and he's growing socially, working out his social phobia (there's one dx) in a behavioral therapy.

Anonymous said...

He talks to the doll the way many people talk to their pets. Is that so crazy?
Other people in the movie treat dolls as significant symbols, too. Abusing them, or loving and caring for them.
Lars is so terribly lost socially, but as he is accepted by the community, he comes to allow himself to be accepted by those who accepted him all along. A lesson for everyone. Everyone.

therapydoc said...

Good point!

Anonymous said...

what type of therapy was being used in this movie??

therapydoc said...

It's eco-system therapy, using community intervention for individual change.

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