Friday, October 16, 2009

The Invention of Lying

Tonight I saw The Invention of Lying, starring Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner.

The alternate reality in which Mark (Gervais) and Anna (Garner) live in doesn't allow for lying. Actually, the citizens don't always just tell the truth—they say everything that comes to mind, even if it may be hurtful to the other person. It is a filter-free society, which makes folks like Mark miserable.

In the span of a few days, Mark loses his job, gets evicted from his apartment and has a disappointing date with Anna, whom he adores. As he goes to the bank to withdraw his last $300, the bank's computer system crashes and they can't check his balance. He knows he only has $300, but it's $800 he needs to pay his rent, so he says $800. And because everyone tells the truth, the teller has no reason to disbelieve him. She hands over his $800 and he's on his way.

He's invented lying.

He doesn't quite understand this gift, but when he tries it out on a few of his buddies (telling them he's a black Eskimo named Doug) and it works, he decides to use it to improve his life.

Soon he has enough money to stay in his apartment and take Anna on a second date, to a nicer restaurant. Things go well on that second date until Anna again confesses she can't be romantically involved with him because he's not a desirable genetic match for her (though he makes her laugh and makes her happy). During the date, his mother falls ill and the couple rush to her side in the hospital. On her deathbed, Mark realizes she's terrified of dying so he invents a story about a paradise afterlife to comfort her. Hospital officials overhear the fib and take it for gospel, alerting the news media to his wisdom, which prompts a mob of sorts to camp outside his residence.

He's not only invented lying, he's invented religion. And this is where the movie becomes preachy in the opposite way that films typically do.

Soon he's proclaiming edicts that sound dangerously like commandments (yes, there's ten) from a Pizza Hut box where he's scribbled them under the pressure of the crowd. Did I mention he's a screenwriter too?

The impromptu way Mark creates the rules of society is meant to highlight the absurdity of Biblical texts, which of course were recorded by men. God becomes "Man in the Sky" and houses resembling churches emerge to give folks a "quiet place to think about the Man in the Sky."

It all amounts to a great big wink in the direction of atheists who may be cheering, and an unflattering mirror to those devout.

I appreciated the clever dialog, the many cameos (Rob Lowe, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tina Fey), the performances by the two leads and the sweetness of their courting, but it all could have moved a bit faster.

At the heart of the story is heart—the message being that we should not live our lives simply to please our families or friends, or conform to society's expectations, even if our brains tell us that is right.

We should follow the instinct that lies deep within us to be good people and seek out someone who fulfills our every dream no matter what sort of package they arrive in.

I wish the film had focused more on that.


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