Film Reviews

THE INVENTION OF LYING

By • Oct 12th, 2009 •

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It’s a movie about something: The invention of lying and The Man in the Sky.

LYING is essentially about two things: Lying and the unfairness of genetics. And, not to be dismissive, The Man in the Sky.

The concept is brilliant and sophisticated. What would life be like if there was no lying? What if everyone accepted as fact everything said? What if telling the truth had no consequences?

Watching this movie quickly establishes that lying (or, if you like, not being truthful) is not only necessary, but is a survival must. If you lie, you are really being nice to people. We all have nasty, hateful thoughts we should keep to ourselves.

Like TRANSFORMERS, THE INVENTION OF LYING takes place in a universe like ours except, instead of a strange alien race of metal robots hiding out as cars and farm equipment, everyone in the world is incapable of lying. Whatever someone says is the absolute truth.

Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) is a short, fat, pug-nosed, ordinary man. He’s one day away from being fired. He has no money for his rent. Though improbable, Mark finally gets a date with the object of his dreams, the ethereally beautiful and socially well-placed Jennifer (Jennifer Garner). She quickly tells Mark she outclasses him and they cannot date. She wants to find a genetically superior male to marry and mate with. She wants beautiful children.

Completely understandable.

Did you ever notice that ugly people have a lot of children? It’s as if they keep trying to beat the genetic odds.

Imagine if you didn’t have to think about what people really mean when they talk to you. In Mark’s universe, truthfulness is not hurtful since everybody does it!

Mark, a screenwriter for a historical film company, is humiliated constantly by his castrating secretary (Tina Fey) and a genetically superior colleague (Rob Lowe).

People are lacking emotions of hurt and self-respect. And, the idea of God hasn’t occurred to anyone yet. When someone dies, they die. They are finished and buried in dirt. Game over.

Shame on Mark getting fired for not coming up with any fun facts about the 14th Century’s Plague (The Black Death in Italy spawned “an Epicurean attitude, drinking, reveling and spending money. Parents abandoned children, husbands left wives, and sick relatives were forsaken.”*) The Plague killed one in three (25%-50% of Europe’s population) and wiped out entire villages and towns. If your ancestors were from Europe, your DNA beat the odds! Hurray for us!

What about the blackmailing, corpse-disposing becchini? Or the blood-drenched traveling flagellants? Everyone knows they were crowd-pleasers!

After being fired, Mark suddenly tells a lie and it works. He tells a bank clerk his account has money in it. She believes him and gives him $800. This begins a course of action. Mark lies to everyone. When he tells his dying mother about the afterlife and where she’s going – she gets her very own mansion – others hear him and know he is telling the truth.

He has created The Man in the Sky and everyone believes Mark because lying doesn’t exist! The Man in the Sky is talking directly to him. Mark becomes obscenely famous and rich. He’s Moses with his very own Ten Commandments written on pizza boxes.

But, Mark is still a short, fat, pug-nosed loser. Jennifer cannot marry him. And, in a “There’s Something About Mary” moment, Mark cannot lie to Jennifer that fame and wealth can change one’s DNA. The guy does have morals. He wants Jennifer to desire a short, fat, pug-nosed loser with undesirable DNA.

But it is the invention of The Man in the Sky that will keep you thinking about THE INVENTION OF LYING. There is something here that has an eerie, uncomfortable truth to it.

Ricky Gervais, who co-wrote and co-directed the movie with Matthew Robinson, has a wonderful cameo cast working with him (Fey, Jeffrey Tambor, Lowe, Jason Bateman, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Guest, Louis C.K. and Edward Norton) and a first rate production team. The director of photography (Tim Suhrstedt), production designer (Alexander Hammond), music (Tim Atack), costume designer (Susie DeSanto) and editor (Chris Gill). Gervais has real chemistry with Garner and an uncanny ability to convey the emotions of a man who is constantly referred to as “a loser”. That has to be acting.
*”The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe” by Robert S. Gottfried.

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