Analysis, Pages 7 (1603 words)
How does the Lars and the real girl demonstrate the challenges with understanding and treating mental illness?
Lars and the Real girl created by Craig Gillespie, centres around a young male named Lars, who is withdrawn and awkward, living in the garage of his brother, Gus and his sister-in-law Karin’s home. It is a story that touches upon love, loss, acceptance and personal growth, showcasing the importance of community and family integration in regard to recovering from a mental illness.
The film demonstrates various challenges with understanding and treating mental illness including the stigma that surrounds mental illness which creates misunderstanding and negative attitudes and/or beliefs which in turn creates a barrier between those with mental illnesses and those who don’t. In addition, Lars childhood and upbringing plays a significant role into his diagnoses, as childhood development plays a significant role in how a person becomes as an adult. Furthermore, the film demonstrates the difficulties of diagnosing a patient and how a therapeutic community can help the recovery process.
In order to understand mental health, it is important to identify theories and models that can help provide understanding of mental health problems. In regard to the film, it is evident that Lars suffers from an unspecific and undiagnosed personality disorder. In particular, personality disorders are one of the most difficult psychological disorders to diagnose, as there are various types of personality disorders with each having slightly different symptoms. (Peterson, n.d) Personality disorders are usually classified as: Cluster A which is odd or eccentric disorders, Cluster B which is dramatic, emotional or erratic disorders and Cluster C which is anxious or fearful disorders.
When Karin and Gus are uncertain of how to address Lars delusional attachment to a real-life doll – named Bianca – they seek out professional guidance from the local psychologist, Dagmar Berman. Dr Berman assures Gus and Karen by saying “I don’t believe he’s psychotic or schizophrenic·I don’t think this is caused by genes or faulty wiring in the brain·he appears to have a delusion·chances are he’s been decompensating for some time” she further explains “This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What we call mental illness isn’t always just an illness… it can be a way to work something out.” And she further recommends Lars family and friends to, “Go along with it.” (0:30)
One of the challenges with diagnosing a patient suffering from a mental health problem is that various illnesses have similar symptoms that can overlap with other psychological disorders. Furthermore, there are individual differences and whilst according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders there are a distinct criteria and symptom for every mental disorder, every individual is different. (Peterson,n.d) For example, Lars shows symptoms of Cluster A which is evident in his use of Bianca and having the delusion that she is in fact real. In addition, he also shows signs of traits in Cluster C through his anti-social traits such as his minimal interest in creating close bonds with other people and doesn’t convey to much emotion. He is also very hypersensitive and prefers to remain alone rather than with others. On the other hand, despite these anti-socials tenderises he is able to take care of himself as he has a full-time job and is a regular attendee at the local church parish. This demonstrates that the mental illness itself isn’t chronic and can be dealt with through proper treatment as it doesn’t entirely affect how he functions.
Another model that can be used to explain Lars behaviour is the psychodynamic theory. One of the assumptions this theory states that the events in an individual’s childhood has a significant influence in their adulthood as it shapes their personality. Events that occur in childhood remain in the unconscious which can causes issues as an adult. (Mcleod, 2017) In regard to the film, it is mentioned in the beginning of the film that Lars mother died when he was an infant which caused his father to fall into depression. Lars upbringing is unknown; however, with the brief background into Lars childhood research suggests that having a depressed parent is one of the most dysfunctional things for a child to be subjected to. A parent’s depression creates a powerful absence in a child life and void of supervision, care and nurturing. (Entin,2015) With this evidence, Lars demonstrates symptoms of schizoid personality disorder and whilst the causes are unknown – it is speculated that it can be either caused by genetics or the environment – It is hypothesised by some health professionals that a bleak childhood where warmth and emotion were absent contributes to the development of the disorder. (Psychology Today, n.d) Furthermore, psychological disorders are diagnosed by talking to a patient and gathering evidence from what they say and do. A psychologist might give a psychiatric evaluation which includes discussion of thoughts, behaviour and feelings and may include a questionnaire to help give diagnoses. They may also compare symptoms to the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (MayoClinic,2016) Moreover, a psychological evolution could have been performed for Lars as he exhibits numerous symptoms for schizoid personality disorder. However, there is minimal research on the treatment of schizoid personality disorder as people with the disorder rarely seek treatment and they are still able to function in everyday life.
Using the above quote she states that Lars isn’t abnormal but rather he is communicating. Nowadays it is more evident that people are being prescribed medication and being diagnosed with these mental health problems. The core message of this film perhaps is that maybe the wave of the future in regard to diagnosing a person if through acceptance not medication. Jay Neugebauer’s Transforming Madness (1999) (Psychology Today, n.d) investigated various cases in which there was significant improvement or the complete recovery from someone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness. A common theme that was discovered was that at one person who treated someone with mental health problems with respect and stuck by them through thick and thin had dramatically improved. In fact, her suggestion to allow Lars family and friends go along with the delusion was in the end the best route to go.
Having the community being accepting and tolerating of behaviours that fall outside of social norms was more beneficial to the treatment of Lars and also the communities understanding in mental illness. Which is evident in one of the elderly women defending him when Gus and Karin were asking them to go along with it when a few others disagreed with it, by pointing out various ‘abnormal’ activities that everyone else in the room has done. This also demonstrates the attitudes within most societies that views people with mental illnesses as threatening to social norm. Often these attitudes and believes foster stigma and discrimination towards people with mental health issues. Social stigma studies have suggested that stigmatising attitudes towards people with mental illnesses are wide spread and commonly held. In a survey of approximately 1700 people, it was discovered that most people shared a common belief that those with schizophrenia, alcoholism and drug dependence were dangerous and a threat to society. (Susman, 2018) With this stigmatisation it creates division and affects people with mental illnesses in both terms of their role within society and their route to recovery. In regard to Lars treatment, whilst it isn’t perfect it isn’t entirely wrong. It brings light to an exceedingly rare example of a therapist being positively portrayed in a film. (Fitzpatrick, 2013) Furthermore, her idea on community intervention was more beneficial then if she were to perform one on one psychotherapy which would prove to be ineffective due to his lack of being able to relate or to communicate with others.
Therefore, Lars and the Real Girl demonstrates the power of community support and shows how it can make a significant impact on the recovery of someone suffering from a mental disorder. It also demonstrates the stigmatisation and how if people had a better understanding and were more accepting there wouldn’t be ignorance towards mental health problems. Furthermore, through with support, compassion and understanding it can really help someone cope with their mental health condition and move into recovery. Hence, Lars and the Real Girl is a powerful film that beautifully demonstrates challenging it really is to diagnose a person with mental health problems, but with the love, acceptance and support of the people around you is a crucial part to the recovery process of someone facing a mental illness.
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- Fitzpatrick, S. (2013). A Psychoanalytic Look at “Lars and the Real Girl”. [online] Cgjungpage.org. Available at: [Accessed 15 Mar. 2019].
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- Lars and the Real Girl. (2007). [DVD] Directed by C. Gillespie. Wisconsin: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).
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