How’d you know?

Just a little over halfway through Lars and the Real Girl (2007), the titular character approaches his older brother, Gus, and engages him in a discussion about rites of passages. In the absence of any coming of age ceremonies, how did Gus know that he’d become a man? Gus stumbles over his answer, “Well, it’s kinda sex, but, but it’s not…” before he’s saved by the bell.

In the next scene, Lars presses Gus until he relents and offers

Gus: Well, it’s not like you’re all one thing or the other. There’s still a kid inside, but you you you…you grow up when you decide to do right. And not what’s right for you—what’s right for everybody. Even when it hurts.

Lars: Ok, like what?

G: [Sighs.] Like…you know, like…you don’t jerk people around. You don’t cheat on your woman. And you take care of your family, you know. You admit when you’re wrong. Or you try to anyways. That’s all I can think of, you know? It sounds like it’s easy, and for some reason, it’s not.

Be a mensch, in other words: do the right thing. Gus offers their father as an example of a man who “tried to do right by us, even though he didn’t know how,” by struggling to raise them, as a single dad, through a fog of depression. Then he himself “mans up” to Lars by apologizing for abandoning him the first chance he got to leave home.

I do think that there is at least one other definition of manhood (and more broadly, adulthood), one that underpins the entire film. As Lars works through his delusion, from start to end, there is a definite sense that he must face his monsters—the twin threats of emotional and physical connection (and we’re not even talking about sex here)—before he can call himself a man. (Would that we all could enjoy the unflagging support of an entire small town while we do battle with ours!)

For those who have access to the full film, the scenes above run roughly between 1:13:38 and 1:16:00.

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