Movie Title: The Invention of Lying (2009)
Ricky Gervais’ and Matthew Robinson’s The Invention of Lying is one of the better films of the year. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether that statement is the product of my strong atheistic bias or not, but that is the official statement that goes on the record. God-believers giddy-up and out, or else brace yourselves for an irreverently honest and amusing ride.
Ricky Gervais is Mark Bellison, an ordinary guy void of a love life who works as a scriptwriter in a not-so-ordinary universe. Mark’s world has the odd distinction of being a place where no one has evolved the ability to tell a lie…or to manipulate or withhold information or to deceive or to allow anyone else to believe misinformation. Everyone says everything that is on his/her mind. It never occurs to a single soul to hold back anything.
That is amusing. It is amusing not just for the way it is presented, but because the idea of deception never evolving is quite an extraordinary whim, a colossal leap of the imagination. But you don’t exactly have to keep in mind that Mark lives in a different universe than we do because the film goes into great detail as to what things are like in his world. Those details aren’t wasted, even though 15 minutes in, you start to suspect that the plot will be lost in a dreariness of cheap humor.
That doesn’t happen. The Invention of Lying doesn’t get old, in part, because it isn’t flattering to those of us who live in the viewer’s universe. We are that “evil” away team that returns to the “good” Enterprise in the episode of the original Star Trek entitled “The Mirror Universe.” Mark is in the “good” universe where honesty is – in practice – the best policy.
What helps make this an incredible viewing experience is that Mark is in the place of that first primitive life-form that learned to “play dead” in order to fend off being eaten. Don’t beat yourself over the head looking for details. You don’t have to care why deceit didn’t evolve. The movie doesn’t care to explain it. You just accept it and you move on, and hopefully, enjoy the show.
Our look into Mark’s life takes off when he finds himself in the pits. He is low on money and about to be fired from his job of writing boring-as-hell, fact-only movies, but then, something utterly amazing happens—through a bizarre evolutionary jump, Mark discovers how to lie to gain a personal advantage over everyone else. Once established as a successful writer and…well…a prophet of “the man in the sky,” his only remaining challenge is to win over the girl of his dreams, Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner).
Garner puts on a top-notch performance. She looks and acts her best. Gervais is a charmer with whom the average viewer can connect. A well-selected cast of comedians includes Tina Fey (Shelley), Louis C.K. (Greg), Jonah Hill (Frank), Rob Lowe (Brad Kessier), and Jason Bateman as (the doctor). Every character is funny and each has a defining attribute you want to see more of.
How far this semi-raunchy English-like comedy will get depends on you. The Invention of Lying does carry an openly humanistic, even atheistic, message. If you attend church three times a week, you are in the firing line. But if you are a merely “unchurched” religionist who can still be religious and laugh at the nuttos who lean on “God’s every word,” the coast may be clear. You shouldn’t be disappointed.
Honesty always demands respect, even when it steps on our toes. The Invention of Lying is honest when it lashes out against the irksome ideologies and idiotic abuses of religion, but it is also honest when it lifts up with sympathy the all too human reasons for why we humans invented religion in the first place. We want to be happier and we want more hope. Mark says to his dying mother…
“Mom, you’re wrong about what happens after you die. It’s not an eternity of nothingness. You go to your favorite place in the whole world. And everyone you have ever loved or who has ever loved you will be there. And you’ll be young again. There’s no pain, just love and happiness. Everyone gets a mansion.”
Might as well quote John 14:1-3 and call it a sermon! While the movie never gives ground on the fact that there is truly nothing for us beyond the grave, it admits that sometimes the comforting lie is to be preferred over the cold, hard truth.
We want to look forward to something better, no matter who or where we are in life. The Invention of Lying says that living for great genetics alone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s got to be more than that when it comes to our estimation of each other and appreciating the sum of the human experience. But that conviction usually backfires. When we turn to lies for comfort, and when we build ideologies on those lies, much harm is done as we see in our world.
While your philosophical persuasion can get in the way of your liking this movie, it is hard not to like a film with unrelentingly dry humor, where buildings have titles like, “A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People,” and where a woman says out loud to her date: “I’ll have the Caesar’s salad with chicken because I think I’m fat, but I also think I deserve something that tastes good.” And see if you can spot where in the movie the title of this article comes from.
It is not until the ending where the light romantic drama and dry humor put a hex on each other. The drama becomes too thick and a pathos-based pandering takes off that brings about a less than quality ending.
The Invention of Lying deserves credit for not giving in to the trend of being a shallow sleaze-fest, and for invoking a novel and cliché-free plot that is full of pungent humor, with put-downs that impale commercialized mass ignorance, while uplifting the humanist’s desire to make both happiness and enlightenment the standard.
Grade: A- (4 stars) Recommended!
Directors: Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson
Summary: A man discovers how to lie in a world of no lying.
Starring: Ricky Gervais “Mark Bellison,” Jennifer Garner “Anna McDoogles,” Tina Fey “Shelley,” Louis C.K. “Greg,” Jonah Hill “Frank,” Rob Lowe “Brad Kessier,” and Jason Bateman as “the doctor”
Genre: Comedy / Romance