“The Invention of Lying” is set in a world where no one lies. No one has the ability. Ricky Gervais, who co-wrote and co-directs, is Mark Bellison, a short, fat, pug-nosed writer who aspires for the love of Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner).
But being in a world where no one lies, Anna makes it clear that she cannot marry Mark. His genetic makeup would produce fat, pug-nosed offspring, and that would not do justice to her great looks and athletic build.
Mark is a loser. That’s what his secretary (Tina Fey) tells him. Remember, no one here ever lies (and on this level, the comedy of the movie works). She also informs him that he is about to get fired as a writer for a movie studio. Adding salt to his wounds is Brad Kessler (Rob Lowe), who is handsome and the best writer at the company. Kessler, cocky and self-assured, reminds Mark that Kessler’s scripts are better than his.
The prophecy of his firing is fulfilled. Mark goes to his apartment and sits depressed, alone. The landlord comes by and adds more to his full plate. He asks for the rent and Mark says he only has $200. The landlord then tells Mark that he is evicted, and he needs to take his last $200 and rent a truck to move out.
When Mark goes to the bank to withdraw his money, the teller says that the computer is down. But since no one ever lies in this world, Mark only has to tell her how much money he needs, and she’ll get it right for him.
Mark stops. His brain sparks. He says he has $800 in the bank. And the first lie is told.
Mark now realizes he has a unique power, and he goes about using it. Sometimes he goes all the way with his lie, and sometimes his better nature keeps him from doing wrong. Interestingly, Mark doesn’t take advantage of individuals, but he will readily do so to companies and corporations, like banks and casinos.
Mark’s mother (Fionnulla Flanagan) lives in a building with a sign that says it’s “A Sad Place Where Homeless Old People Come to Die.” She takes ill and goes to the hospital. On her deathbed, she tells Mark she is afraid. She knows when she dies that she will go to a place of nothingness. Because truth is always told, there is no concept of anything that must be held as hope.
Mark looks at her and begins to weep. Then he tells her that she is not going to a place of nothingness. Instead, she’s going to a place of beauty, and that everyone who has died will be there. And there will be a mansion there for her. This gives her hope.
But she’s not the only one to hear Mark’s “lie.” The nurses and doctor hear it, and they are filled with wonder. They want to know how Mark knows all of this. How did he discover this when no one else had ever heard it?
Word spreads about Mark’s tale to his mother. People surround his home and want an explanation. Mark sits down and writes out the 10 things that he knows about this place where his mother has gone. He begins by saying that there is a big man who watches down over us from the sky. And there he begins to tell his “lie” about what happens at the end of life.
Ricky Gervais is a self-described atheist. When asked about this movie, he has said that religion is nothing more than a hopeful lie for the dying. And over the centuries, the lie has been qualified and expanded and religion has become hurtful.
This makes it seem like religion exists only for help with dying, and that faith is only to keep you from a “bad place.” The idea of having a relationship with the Divine is lost in the “lie” that gives hope.
This is a myopic view of religion. Gervais wants to say that I can be moral without religion. That I feel is true. But from where does morality spring? It grows out of the larger contribution of faith; it gives us the means of becoming something more than “good.” Faith allows us to grow in relationship with the Divine and with others. And that relationship with the Divine is what makes relationships with others richer.
I wanted badly to like this movie, but when it was over, I was upset that something as personal as faith became a joke. It seemed to be a convenient means of saying, “Faith is nothing more than a lie for those who need a crutch through life.”
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language including some sexual material and a drug reference.
Directors: Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson
Writers: Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson
Cast: Ricky Gervais: Mark Bellison; Jennifer Garner: Anna McDoogles; Fionnulla Flanagan: Martha Bellison; Rob Lowe: Brad Kessler; Tina Fey: Shelly; Louis C.K.: Greg; Jonah Hill: Frank.
The movie’s Web site is here.