The Invention of Lying

“The Invention of Lying” is a satire that depicts a world where no one fibs, fiction doesn’t exist and people take each other at their literal word, but unsuccessful screenwriter Mark gains fame and fortune — and maybe the girl of his dreams, Anna — by saying things that aren’t true. The Invention of Lying is a remarkably radical comedy, a comedy with ideas; fortunately it remains, throughout, a comedy first. The first half hour has some of the funniest original writing and scenes ever in a comedy, in which people actually say what they think about each other. It opens with a series of funny, relentlessly logical episodes in a world where everyone always tells the truth. But one day Mark (Ricky Gervais) undergoes an astonishing revelation. He knows his bank balance is $300. The camera zooms into his brain to show mental lightning bolts, and he tells the teller he has $800 (which he needs to pay the rent). She hands him the money and apologizes for the bank’s computer. He has discovered he can lie, but his world lacks even a word for this. Then when Mark wants to console his mother who is dying, he makes up a story about “The Man In The Sky”, and gets millions of people to believe in him. So the film slips in the implication that religion is possible only in a world that has the ability to lie. Not only is it inventive and imaginative and original, but it truly inspires the viewer to think! You start to wonder, “Is this how religion was invented?” Something to think about. With his new power Mark is able to tell his mother that death does not lead to oblivion, but to a wonderful afterlife. Of course she, and everyone else, believes him. The word races around the world, and people beg for more details. Anna tells him how happy he could make everyone. Then, in one of the funniest satirical scenes I can remember, Mark stands on his front steps and informs the world there is a Man in the Sky, and they will be happy up there with him after death. The world is ecstatic. This Man, Mark explains, is responsible for everything. “Even my cancer?” a woman asks. Yes, that too, but Mark asks his audience not to get bogged down in the details. What we have here, in microcosm, is the paradox of a benevolent god creating a world of evil. Mark is hard-pressed to explain it, but greater men than he have tried. That’s a definite extra in a light romantic comedy. As someone once said, “Religion is Santa Clause for adults.” So unlike many liars we know who lie for their own benefit, Mark uses his power to fib mostly to make unfortunate people feel better, by telling only what we call “white lies”. So the movie could more accurately be titled “The Invention of White-Lying”. Also sweet, as he doesn’t want to win the girl with lies so he’s honest with her. Then the dialogue on genetic selection is also funny and yet somewhat serious too. Jennifer Garner as Anna gives an inspired, seemingly effortless, performance as a great beauty who isn’t conceited or cruel but simply thinks Mark, with his pug nose, is the wrong genetic match for her future children. She tells him that she finds him unattractive, there will never be any possibility of sex, and he is too short and fat to make a good genetic sperm source. At a restaurant, the waiter tells them that Anna is out of Mark’s league. Mark and Anna agree. Mark takes this agreeably enough; one is not easily insulted when everyone tells the truth all the time. She plans to marry Brad (Rob Lowe), who is as conventionally handsome (and boring) as Clark Kent. The film has one of those scenes at the altar (“Do you, Brad, agree to stay with Anna as long as you can?”) that avoids obvious cliches by involving profound philosophical conclusions. Overall the film is a very dry, low-key and thought-provoking subversive satire about why we say the things we do, why we believe the things we do, and what can happen if we dig a little deeper and stop taking things solely at face value. Mark initially lives in a bleak world where there is no such thing as fictional entertainment, no comforting white lies, nothing beyond what people can see (i.e., no God, no heaven or hell), no fraud, no subtleties. What would such a world be like? In “The Invention of Lying,” a retirement home is called “A Sad Place Where Homeless Old People Come to Die.” Pepsi ads say: “For when they don’t have Coke.” People say exactly what they think, take everything at face value, and “losers” have no hope for the future because they are constantly confronted with their faults and cannot see beyond the here-and-now. Mark is in danger of falling into this category: he is in love with a woman (Garner) who likes his personality but is not attracted to him physically, and he expects to be fired from his job as a writer of history movies, which tell only true stories. Things change in unexpected and funny ways when he discovers the ability to state something that isn’t . . .i.e., how to lie. But once he starts, where and how should he draw the line? “The Invention of Lying” isn’t strident, ideological or argumentative; it’s simply the story of a guy trying to comfort his mother and perhaps win the woman he loves. This is a very entertaining movie. A great premise. Cute concept which is a great commentary on how we live (including advertising, etc). This movie does not provide many “laugh out loud” moments, but it consistently amuses, provides tons of cameos by brilliant performers, and keeps you thinking long after the lights come up. A nice little gem with a powerful message. The movie is somewhat deep and requires a bit of thought to appreciate it. This film is the best yet in confronting such a taboo subject as religion with humor, honesty and entertainment. Thank you! Original, smart, thoughtful and witty. If you like those qualities in a film, you will love this one. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie; it was entertaining, well cast, and very funny in a way only the utter truth can be so funny. The movie is everything a comedy ought to be: it’s funny and creative and interesting. It’s well worth the time. Loved it! It is truly a “see it now” movie! Satire 2009 PG-13 99 minutes.

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