The Invention Of Lying
Romantic comedy isn’t a genre in which you’d expect to find any new ground, but The Invention Of Lying does just that; it takes place in a world of totally honest people. A woman asked out on a date tells her suitor, straight off; “I just don’t find you attractive”. A man calling in to work says; “I’m not sick or anything, I just don’t want to come in.” The cashier at a casino says; “You’ll probably lose all your money, and even if you win, we’ll most likely win it back in the long run!” A man on TV implores us: “Please don’t stop buying Coke.” But everyone is accustomed to this level of brutal honesty. They accept statements with a depressed nod that would lead to violence in our world.
There’s a downside, however; it is a world almost completely without imagination. There’s no fiction, so TV shows and movies consist of someone sitting in a chair reading a script about history. Unlucky you, if you are a writer assigned to the 13th century. Your ratings will go down and you will probably be fired. That’s Ricky Gervais’ dilemma, on the same day that Jennifer Garner rejects him “You’re short and pudgy! You have a pug nose!” To top it all off his mother is dying. He sits by her bed as she recounts how terrified she is facing an eternity of nothingness. Just before she dies, something snaps in his brain and he invents lying. “You don’t go to an eternity of nothingness,” he tells her. “You go to an eternal mansion and everyone you’ve ever loved will be there!” A look of peace and joy spreads across her face, and she dies.
The even worse downside of a completely honest society is that once lying is invented, it operates in an utterly credulous environment. Gervais looks up from his deceased mother to find the doctor and nurses staring in wide-eyed amazement. “Tell us more!” they say. This gets out of hand fast, and on a global scale. Gervais finds himself the unwitting founder of the world’s first religion. And on a personal level he explores what his new power means in terms of wealth and career – and finds it by turns exhilarating and terrifying.
The movie is sweet and it appeals to my sense of humor for what that’s worth. It’s rated PG-13, “Parents Strongly Cautioned”. After all, there’s some crude language, and one of the characters casually mentions masturbation. (Be sure your teens never find out about masturbation. This will only happen if they see some reference to it in a movie.) The premise of the film is thought-provoking too, and we certainly don’t want children thinking about lying as a pretense of virtue, or as a social lubricant. In fact, it’s as good an examination of the ethics of lying as I’ve ever seen in a comedy. No lie.