Friday 29 March 2013

Film: The Invention of Lying (2009)

The Invention of Lying stars British comedian Ricky Gervais (who also co-authored and co-directed) as film scriptwriter Mark Bellison, who lives on an alternative Earth which is identical to ours except for one important detail; no-one is capable of lying, so everyone tells the blunt truth at all times. In fact, the concept of lying does not even exist, so people instantly and firmly believe everything they are told. The movies on which Bellison works are all factual documentaries and all consist simply of one person reading the script; fiction does not exist.

Be warned - this review contains spoilers!

Bellison is a loser in all aspects of his life and has reached rock bottom, but then suddenly has an inspiration - he lies to get himself out of trouble. From then on his life makes a spectacular recovery as he lies to obtain money, and writes dramatic but entirely fictional scripts which are a huge box-office success since everyone believes the fantastical events in them to be true. His life heads in a different direction when he is overheard lying to his dying mother about the wonderful afterlife which awaits her, to ease her fear of death. This world lacks the concept of religion and Bellison's stories spread like wildfire, bringing him global fame. However, this still does not make him sufficiently attractive to Anna (Jennifer Garner), the love of his life who is also being courted by a rival scriptwriter.

Although I have been unable to discover any reference to it, this film was surely inspired by James Morrow's novella City of Truth, which I reviewed on this blog in December 2007. Some of the basic elements differ (in the novella, people have the capacity to lie, but are conditioned from their earliest years to tell only the truth), but many of the jokes resulting from the brutal honesty of everyday life are similar. Despite this humour, Morrow's story is darker in tone, while TIOL is (rightly) billed as a romantic fantasy comedy.

I suspect that this movie didn't go down too well in more religious parts of the world, since it portrays Bellison as inventing a "Man in the Sky" to account for the existence of the afterlife he has described. He writes a moral code allegedly from the Man in the Sky which is equivalent to the Ten Commandments, and presents it to an eager audience, only to be disconcerted by some of the literal questioning about the practical details. As he becomes involved in ever more detailed and convoluted explanations for the inconsistencies in his newly-invented religion, he is dismayed by some of the consequences of its spread. Apart from the concept of a happy afterlife for those who behave themselves, it appears that the religion has a largely negative effect on most people's lives. Needless to say, however, the film has a happy ending.

I have to admit that Gervais's humour and mine operate on different wavelengths so I don't generally find him very amusing. I found this film better than most in that respect and worth watching, despite the satire being rather blunt and heavy-handed, but Morrow's novella is more thought-provoking.

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