“To be kind neither hurts nor compromises.”–George MacDonald. “God’s Family.” Hope of the Gospel.
The above quote has been in my commonplace book for many years. There are days when I think is true. There are days when I think it, like the more often quoted “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” is not just wrong but 180 degrees wrong. As I grow older, the former days begin to outnumber the latter. I tend, more and more, to think of kindness less in terms of the painful putting to death of the old, fallen self, less as the thing that has been tried and found wanting, and more as the thing that has been found hard and not tried.
Lars and the Real Girl is a sweet film that gets a lot of emotional mileage out of showing people being kind. It is a film in which people are loving for no other reason than they can be and where they choose to be compassionate rather than cruel because doing the former seldom costs more than the latter.
I’ve recently ranted in the rant threads about Dan in Real Life and how shabbily it treats and depicts some of its supporting characters. Lars and the Real Girl is a film that trusts its audience enough that it doesn’t have to make you like the protagonist by making everyone else a jerk. There’s an unwritten rule in the ATK blog that you can’t complain about the NCAA not putting your team in the field of 64 or the Academy not nominating a film without saying which team or film it should replace. I’m not sure that Lars and the Real Girl is Oscar material, but I will say I prefer it vastly over the smug, self-satisfied and condescending Juno and I do so for precisely the reason given above. The people who occupy this film, who move in and out of Lars’s circle, while not perfect, are decent, if occasionally flawed or scarred, folks that the film allows us to like as much as Lars. Lars and the Real Girl recognizes what I don’t think Juno does–that love is not a zero-sum game, that we don’t necessarily nor instinctively care less about who and what the film most wants us to care about simply because there are other things besides those things in the film that might warrant our respect and appreciation. So many films fear we will get lost and never work our way back to the star, the protagonist, the hero, and thus strip the world he or she occupies of anything good, or beautiful, or admirable, making us cling to the protagonist not because he or she draws us, but because like Private Mayo in An Officer and a Gentleman, “[We ] got no place else to go.”
In fact, the community is the hero of Lars and the Real Girl. I can’t think of the last commercial, American film I saw that presented community as a positive force (at least that wasn’t doing so ironically or satirically). Compare the doctor here to the technician in Juno. Compare the pastor and his community here to the one in There Will Be Blood. Compare the portrayal of businesses (like the merchant who gives Bianca a part time job) to that of Michael Clayton. Compare the film’s take on the possibility for healing, growth, or forgiveness with that of Atonement.
I know, I know, this film is a fantasy and those other films are realism. If Sheriff Bell wandered over to Lars’s neck of the woods he’d find it a fine country for old men, and we, like Lars, know that in another world called reality land, love hurts, innocence is met with scorn and contempt, not tenderness and compassion, that kindness is often compromised and the only reason it seldom hurts is because we generally only ever practice it from a safe distance.
Maybe it is the responsibility of art or film to hold a mirror up to the world and show us the cold, hard, truth.
Or maybe, just maybe, on a rare occasion, a film can do something even harder. Maybe, now and again, it can show us the more excellent way, the way that things should be, the way things are beneath the surfaces hardened by cynicism, and scorn, and just plain old weariness.
It’s not a perfect film by any means. The 911 call didn’t work for me–the hospital seemed too big for the sort of small town where this might happen (with a little suspended disbelief), and I’m not sure that ambulances and hospitals would just play along given the costs of these services and the need to be on call for actual emergencies. I’m still not sure that virtue isn’t gendered a bit too much in the film, though that might be true to its theme in that men are perhaps more uncomfortable expressing kindness than women because of cultural norms associating it [falsely] with weakness, which makes those practicing it appear [or feel] less masculine. It might not even be a great film, though given how often that word is lobbied about, I’m not sure it it doesn’t have streaks of greatness in it.
Or perhaps I’m just being too kind to the film.