Sunday Morning movie reviewer David Edelstein says a new comedy about a doll that might be real (at least in one character's imagination) says a lot about the dividing line between fantasy and horror.
"Lars and the Real Girl" isn't a Halloween picture, but with a tweak or two it could be. It's about an emotionally backwards man played by Ryan Gosling and a sex doll called Bianca he thinks is alive. He totes her around and shows her off to his brother and sister-in-law and co-workers, and why not? She's his first girlfriend!
Now, if this were my brother I'd get him therapy and meds and try to get to the root of the delusion. But the doctor in "Lars," played by Patricia Clarkson, tells everyone to go along with the fantasy.
See, Lars had a childhood trauma, he can't form relationships, and she thinks Bianca the sex doll is like a way-station on the road to emotional autonomy. And because Lars says Bianca is religious, she and Lars don't even have premarital sex. It's a family sex-doll film!
Now, it's fun to believe in nice and healthy imaginary friends, like the invisible six-foot-rabbit Jimmy Stewart pals around with in "Harvey."
But I can't get out of my head all the movies where dolls "tell" delusional schizophrenics to take a knife and carve up the supporting cast, like the great "Dead of Night," where Michael Redgrave is a ventriloquist whose domineering dummy tells him to kill. The idea was recycled, lamely, in "Magic," with Anthony Hopkins clearly nuts from the first frame.
In "Child's Play," the doll, Chucky, actually is alive - and a homicidal maniac.
But I like movies where you don't know what's real and what's in the protagonist's head. My favorite is a little Canadian picture called "Pin," about kids whose surrogate parent is a full-size medical mannequin, easily the most chilling devil doll in modern horror.
Back to "Lars and the Real Girl": It's a howl, with a great cast. But do I buy it? Not really. You might, though. And it's a good thing for each of us to draw our own lines between healthy and unhealthy fantasy - between fantasy that helps us live in the world, and fantasy that isolates us and incubates our craziness.
This Halloween, you should see "Lars" and then "Pin," and figure out where on the spectrum you fall.
What was that, stuffed doll? You think I should I have been harder on "Lars"? That I should have butchered it?