The Invention of Lying (2009)

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Published on: 2009.10.03

“The Invention of Lying,” written by, directed by, and starring comedian Ricky Gervais, has a simple premise, as detailed in the previews: No one in the world has ever lied, until now.

Gervais’ character, Mark Bellison, apparently has a misfiring synapse when he lies for the first time, and it surprises him as much as it would anybody. But once he realizes the import of what he’s done, he keeps doing it, trying to use his powers for good, with some hilarious results.

I wondered about the premise before seeing the movie. What would the “ban” on lying include? As it turns out, the authors went whole hog. When they say no one’s ever lied in this world, they mean in any way. No fictional stories, no lies by omission, no intentional deceit, and no religion.

Basically the rule on this imaginary world has always been: you can’t say anything that isn’t. No one’s ever thought of doing such a thing.

So, if two people tell you two different things, then one of them is mistaken.

The story starts of hilariously, with Gervais’ and Jennifer Garner’s characters meeting for a date. She’s hot, and he’s dumpy. They waste no time telling each other this, in all honesty, including their doubts and worries about the date. Flattery doesn’t exist, because it’s a form of lying. Keeping silent to spare someone’s feelings is also lying, and so has never been done.

Think of all the things that wouldn’t exist if no one had ever said anything that wasn’t true… For instance, words like true, untrue, belief, unbelievable, fiction, lying, etc. — none of those words can exist. There are no churches, no novels. All movies are historical or documentary. All news shows only tell the truth (how great that would be!)

When Bellison suddenly realizes he can say things that don’t agree with reality (lying), he quickly learns what power that holds, both for good and evil. He can walk into a bank and tell them he has quite a bit of money in his bank account — they’ll assume their computers have made a mistake.

In the course of the story, Bellison learns how to make people feel better about themselves by telling little white lies. He invents fictional movies, and later religion. Religion came naturally, because everyone was scared of the nothingness that comes after death. He assured them that good things would follow death, at least for good people.

Religious people are unlikely to enjoy the movie, since it gets to the heart of why most early religions were started — to cure that fear of life and fear of the unknown after death (besides the ability to control large groups of people).

But it’s well-thought out and well-executed in this movie. The funny parts are really funny, and the sad parts are really sad. There’s really no great cinematography though, no reason to see it on the big screen. Wait for it on DVD.

IMDb: The Invention of Lying
Wikipedia: The Invention of Lying
Rating: PG-13
(for language, including some sexual material and a drug reference)
Length: 100 min. (1:40)
Director: Ricky Gervais / Matthew Robinson
Genre: Comedy / Religion
My Rating: 8 of 10
Family Friendly: No
(“language” includes a couple of f-bombs, surprising for PG-13)
Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Jonah Hill, Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Edward Norton (uncredited cameo)

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