Lars and the Real Girl go to Church

Mary Hulst

Last night I rented "Lars and the Real Girl", a fascinating movie about a young man who buys a life-size doll and presents her to his family as his girlfriend.  After a consultation with their family doctor, his brother and sister-in-law decide to go along with it (his brother begrudgingly) and carefully tell co-workers, church members, and others about Lars' delusion.

The tension in the movie centers around you, the viewer, wondering who the jerk is going to be.  Where are the teenaged boys to whistle and tease?  Where's the insensitive cad at the party?  The jerk coming out of a bar?  Because surely someone is going to be mean, right?  We can't go through this whole movie with everyone being so compassionate, right?

I'll let you rent the movie to see for yourself what happens, but I clicked off my set last night wishing I could move to that town.  When Lars' brother and sister-in-law have a meeting with people at church (on folding chairs, in a circle, in the basement) one woman points out that other people in the church have problems, too, so what's the big deal.  She rattles off a few faults of relatives of the people in the circle and then points to one older man and finishes, "...and your wife was a clepto."  "She was not!" the man retorts.  "Then why is she buried in my earrings?" says the woman, not in an accusing way, but in a way that communicates that she simply absorbed this woman's failings as part of being in a relationship with her.

The church then simply accepts Lars and "Bianca" for the sake of Lars.

It is obvious that in this small town, people aren't just going along to get along.  They are going along in love.  It is not incidental that one of the earliest scenes in the movie is in church, where Lars is playing with action figures while the pastor declares (okay, drones on without a great deal of passion) that God is love, and when we love we can be God in action.

It's the thesis of the movie, stated right there in the beginning, but it wasn't until right now that I put it all together.  I don't know enough about the writer or director to make any great pronouncements, but I know enough about church culture to know how miserably we fail at this very thing.  If a young man came into your congregation pushing a life-sized doll in a wheelchair and introduced her as his girlfriend, how would you react?  Your children?  Your church council?  Yeah, I thought so.

Me too.

We are so conditioned in most churches to hide our crazy.  To hide our sin.  We shower and dress up, we wash our cars and floss.  We show up looking good and smiling and nodding politely.  Don't you sometimes want to walk into worship unshowered and unshaven, pushing your "doll in a wheelchair" and just have people love you right there in the moment?

Yeah, I thought so.

Me too.

God is love.  When we love, we get to be God in action.  Sounds like gospel to me.

Topics: Movies, Culture At Large, Theology & The Church