Mark Metcalf
Moving Pictures

The Invention of Lying

By - Jan 26th, 2010 12:36 pm
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Jennifer Garner and Ricky Gervais in The Invention of Lying.

Jennifer Garner and Ricky Gervais in The Invention of Lying.

Ricky Gervais stars in The Invention of Lying, which he wrote and directed with Matthew Robinson. The film was released on DVD last week. In case you don’t know who Ricky Gervais is, he (along with Stephen Merchant) created The Office, the original English version that ran for two seasons because he planned it that way, not because it went off the air. As good as the Steve Carell version is, it pales beside the originality and genuine human dimension of the original. Gervais and Merchant also created Extras, the English comedy about actors working as extras in British films and television; that was so good, every famous actor in films wanted to do a bit on it — and many did. It ran three seasons and went off because Gervais is a genius and had other things on his mind.

In a country more and more threatened by the narrow thinking and belligerence of the Christian Right, it is understandable why The Invention of Lying was not successful at the box office. The premise is truly original and extremely funny. The idea is simply this: a world in which everyone tells the truth all the time. The notion of shading the truth or hedging what you are really thinking (let alone out-and-out lying about) has never occurred to anyone. That is, until Mark Bellison (Gervais), a kind although somewhat dumpy loser, sits by his dying mother’s bedside and looks into her frightened eyes and tells her that everything is going to be alright. He tells her there is a place she will go to when she dies where she will be reunited with all of her family and friends, live in a mansion and have as much ice cream as anyone could ever want. And Bellison knows this because “the man in the sky” told him.

Poster from 2009's Invention of Lying

Poster from 2009’s Invention of Lying

It starts as a simple lie told out of kindness to spare another person pain. And it grows, as lies usually do, into a very elaborate and complicated schematic in which there are lots of rules for what is good and what is bad. For example, there are rules for what gets you into the good place when you die and what may cause you to go to “the other” place. A bad hairstyle, although inherently bad, is not enough to keep you out of a mansion, apparently.

Now, I have always questioned the existence of a white-bearded man who has masterminded this whole shindig, someone who has his fingers on everything and knows if you’ve been bad or good, etc. I also understand the advantages in believing a story like that. It would make passing through this veil of tears a lot easier if we could be assured of some easy paradise with ice cream, mansions, whatever, when it all ends. The fact that most of the planet bows down to this story shows the power of the dancer and the dance.

This film is a delightful, inventive and welcome change of pace from the shrill, unquestioning noise that echoes from the mouths of the intolerant, my-way-or-the-highway types, who willingly pass over an enjoyable existence here on earth in favor of the promise of paradise after death.

Categories: Movies

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