Social Anxiety in Movies: Lars and the Real Girl

SocialAnxiety-LarsRealGirl

Lars and the Real Girl is a quirky indie dramedy about a shy lonely psychologically-troubled young man who buys a sex doll over the internet and starts a (non-sexual) relationship with her, believing she is real.

Lars and the Real Girl [2007]

  • Directed by: Craig Gillespie
  • Screenplay by: Nancy Oliver
  • Starring: Ryan Gosling

Trailer:

Psychoanalysis: (Warning: Full Spoilers Ahead!)

First off, Ryan Gosling, who I think is one of the better actors working today, was fantastic in this film. It can be tricky to portray a shy introverted character authentically without the film becoming too boring or the characterization too mocking. However, Gosling’s performance was understated, nuanced, at times funny, others sad, and always compelling.

The character of Lars displays several symptoms of social anxiety, but as with other characters in this series, he also suffers from deeper psychological issues. I think certain people are born with social anxiety, and that is their main issue, which can spawn other issues. But other people, like Lars, are not necessarily born with social anxiety—rather, they develop it over time as a result of other psychological issues.

Lars, for instance, has deep-rooted issues surrounding his mother, who died during his birth. He blames himself for her death, and he’s been afraid to get close to anyone ever since, possibly for fear of the suffering that would come from losing someone like he did his mother. That fear drives him into isolation, which fuels his social anxiety.

Then, through his isolation and avoidance of confronting his issues, Lars develops a psychosis of believing Bianca (the sex doll) is real. She fills the void of loneliness in his life—not sexually, but emotionally. She is the perfect partner because he doesn’t have to worry about her ever dying or leaving him.

Ironically, Bianca becomes therapeutic for Lars. He clearly has feelings for his co-worker Margo (Kelli Garner), but he is always awkward around her and afraid to talk. The first time Margo invites Lars to a party (before Bianca), he refuses, but later (with Bianca) he accepts the invitation. By bringing the doll along, he has more confidence to get out of his comfort zone and to go to places and do things he was afraid to do before.

Eventually, by the end of the film, Lars becomes so comfortable, that he doesn’t need Bianca anymore and is able to let her go. Due to his experience and confidence-building with the doll, Lars is finally able to start a relationship with a real real girl: Margo.

Lars’s journey with Bianca proves the power of exposure therapy, which is a common treatment for social anxiety. If you gradually expose yourself to the social situations that you fear, you will build confidence over time, and eventually, you won’t fear those situations anymore.

Not everybody who has social anxiety becomes delusional, and a sex doll probably won’t be the cure. Still, Lars and the Real Girl provides an accurate portrayal of social anxiety and offers some wise lessons on how to overcome it.

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