The Invention of Lying (PG-13)
IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Warner Bros.; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; FandangoNOW; Google Play; iTunes; Movies Anywhere; Vudu
First of all, I want to say that the premise of this movie reminds me of the aliens from Galaxy Quest, who had never heard of lying. Of course, this movie is... speculative fiction, but not exactly sci-fi, like that one (though both films are predominantly comedy). It's not about aliens, it's about human beings. The world of "The Invention of Lying" is pretty much exactly like present-day Earth, except that no one has ever said anything that is untrue. It simply wouldn't occur to anyone. This begs countless questions, for example, how could such an Earth's history be the same as ours, when obviously our history was filled with lies? But it's best to ignore that, and just go along with the premise. Another point is that there isn't even fiction in that world, which again reminds me of "Galaxy Quest"- something that always bothered me is that the aliens in that movie not only had no concept of lying, but no concept of fiction. And of course, fiction isn't technically lying, because there's no intent to deceive. But again... you just have to go with it. It's kind of amusing in this movie that... all movies in that world seem to be people just reading historical accounts. Not even dramatizations of events. Hell, even TV commercials don't exaggerate the merits of their products in any way. Of course... I couldn't live in a world without fiction, but I do find truth to be incredibly important. However, I also couldn't live in a world, like the one in this movie, where not only do people not lie, but they don't refrain from saying anything that's on their mind. Except... obviously if one said everything that was on one's mind, no one would stop talking for even a split second. So, clearly, people in this movie hold some thoughts back, and so I don't understand where the line is. There must be a line, just... a very different one from that which most people have in the real world. So once again, I should just go with the concept, and not examine it too closely. (Except that the way my mind works, I can't help but overthink everything. At one point, I even began wondering how they could have slang in that world, when someone says "cool," and they're not talking about temperature. ...But I apologize if I also can't help putting too much of my overthinking into my reviews, sometimes.) Still, it's pretty funny, even if the premise begins to get a bit repetitive fairly soon.
Anyway, the main character is Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais), a screenwriter at Lecture Films, who was stuck writing movies about an unpleasant historical century (the 1300s, which mostly seems to involve the Black Plague), which basically means there was no chance of his being successful. So, he gets fired. But of course, he knew this was coming; everyone did. It happens the day after he had a date with a woman named Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner). She liked him, but wasn't interested in him romantically, because she found him unattractive and he wasn't successful financially. (These are the kinds of things people are compelled to say all the time, in that world.) And after losing his job, Mark gets evicted from his apartment. But when he goes to the bank to close his account, the computer system is down, so... the teller asks how much is in his account. He knows he has $300, but his rent is $800, and something in his mind causes him to say he had $800 in his account. This is the first lie any human has ever told in all of history, apparently. And even when the system comes back up a moment later, the teller assumes it is wrong when it says he has $300, so she just gives him the $800.
So... lying is born. This is, like, beyond any epiphany anyone has ever had. Mark begins testing it, and since no one can conceive of lying, even when he specifically tries to explain to them that he is saying things that aren't (he can't even say "true," because there's no word for such a concept, since... everything's true, and there's no point in labeling as such. At another point, someone uses the word "imagine," which probably shouldn't have existed in the language, either, even if it was only meant to suggest something which was probable.) People just accept anything he says, no matter how outlandish. This makes obtaining lots of money incredibly easy. He could even get random women to sleep with him if he wanted, but... he seems to have too much of a conscience to go through with that. Still, he does want to make Anna like him romantically.
He also wants to write the greatest movie ever. So, he writes a science fiction story, set in the 1300s, and takes it to his old boss, claiming it was a manuscript he'd discovered, which had been written 700 years earlier, detailing events heretofore unknown (because of an alien mind wipe at the end), which also prophesied him, specifically, discovering the manuscript and making it into a movie. Of course, everyone at the studio takes it as reality, and accepts Mark's statement that it will be the greatest movie ever made.
His newfound success enhances Anna's opinion of him, even if she's still not attracted to him. She also comforts him after his mother dies. But more importantly, he comforted his mother just before she died, by making up a story about what happens to you after you die. (Of course, the world had no concept of religion, which once again begs the question of how its history could be anything remotely like ours, considering how monumental a part religion has played, and continues to play in our world, but... whatever.) The story Mark made up to comfort his mother on her deathbed sounded very much like the Christian idea of Heaven, though I suppose it could be similar to other religions' ideas. The thing is, the way he described it, it sounded so simple, so obvious... the kinds of things one might come up with off the top of one's head, if one was trying to invent some idealized afterlife. And of course, it made her final moments happy, because she couldn't help but believe it.
The thing is, the doctor and nurses who were present also heard what Mark said, and couldn't help but believe it, themselves. And they were captivated by the ideas. And soon, the media and the public want to hear more about what he has to say about the afterlife, and Anna encourages him to tell them. To make them happy. So, he works out a set of rules to explain it all, a concept of a "Man in the Sky" who controls everything that happens in life, both good and bad, and who determines if people go to a good place or a bad place when they die. People want more details, of course, but he gets exasperated trying to answer all their questions. (It occurred to me later to wonder why they didn't just think he was insane, the way people in our world, who already believe in God, would think anyone who claims to talk to God is crazy. And the answer that then occurred to me was... I got the impression that that world does have crazy people, but that even they are not capable of saying untrue things, so... whatever.)
But anyway, Mark becomes rich and famous, and his movie breaks all records. And Anna continues to get closer to him, as a friend. And the world begins to change. (Some of the subtle changes remind me a bit of Pleasantville, which is, IMHO, a much better film than this.) Meanwhile, Anna starts dating Brad Kessler (Rob Lowe), another writer at Lecture Films, because he is a good genetic match. She doesn't like him, but they would have good-looking children, unlike her and Mark (who, by this point, she would probably rather be with if not for the children thing). And, eventually (mostly to make her mother happy), she decides to marry Brad. (The wedding is in a quiet place to think about the Man in the Sky, which just pretty much looks like a church. Once again, this begs the question of how such places could exist in such a familiar form, even if they'd only recently been constructed for the first time in history. More to the point, why would one have a wedding there? In fact, why is there even such a thing as marriage, when most people seem interested in genetic compatibility, to the point they're practically unaware of the possibility of romantic "love," per se- well, to be fair, that world's idea of marriage is a bit less theoretically binding than ours, but still. ...And why haven't undesirable traits been bred out of existence by now? ...But mostly I'm wondering about the church.)
What else to say? The only thing I haven't told you about the plot, essentially, is how it ends. Does Anna actually end up marrying Brad, or does she change her mind, and go for Mark? I won't tell you that, not just because it's a spoiler, but because... it's too much the point of the film, I think. I do like that Mark never really lied to her, to get her to be with him. But... I dunno. Listen... There are basically three elements to the film. One, comedy. Two, romance. The comedy is the most important driving force of the movie, and the romance is... you know, sort of the most important driving force of life, and therefore the ultimate plot point of so many movies. In a way, the comedy is the filler that makes the plot entertaining, which allows you to reach the end. But in this film, both the comedy and the romance are also entirely driven by the third element, the "big idea."
So, I first put this review in the comedy section, but then started thinking about moving it to the art films section. Because... it's the kind of movie that makes you think about things we take for granted, reevaluate your ideas, or whatever. Or at least, that's what it could have been. There is a perception, in the world today, and I'm sure there's some truth to this, that... well, a lot of people don't really believe in religion anymore. Especially in Europe, which I find kind of ironic. But also among certain kinds of people, be it the scientific community or the entertainment industry, or what have you. I'm sure there are a lot of people who look down on people who continue to believe in God, and all that. Meanwhile, true believers look down on those who don't believe. Each side can think the other blind, stupid, close-minded. And honestly, I think in many cases, both sides are right. I believe that no one in the world knows the truth, and my feeling is the only stupid thing is believing without question that your beliefs are necessarily correct. It doesn't matter if you believe that God exists or that He doesn't; if you cannot prove your belief to be true (and you can't), then it's ridiculous to believe absolutely. I don't think God minds people doubting, as long as they overcome their doubts. On the other hand, if it happens that He doesn't exist, then believing in Him won't do the natural laws of the universe any harm, either. (As long as you don't persecute others over different beliefs.)
So, whatever. The movie does a decent job of showing how ridiculous it is to believe whatever you're told without question, without a moment's doubt. The problem I have is that it feels to me too one-sided. Too much like it's equating people of faith with... the fictitious people of the world in the movie. On the other hand, it's not like there's some rule that all movies have to present a balanced, unbiased view. Especially when you're talking about comedies. There's no way this movie is going to make believers stop believing; I can only hope it doesn't deepen the enmity between believers and non-believers. I don't care what the intentions were of the people who wrote the film, aside from their intent to entertain. All that matters is that it's funny. Anyway, I don't feel the movie made me think quite as much as it might have wanted to. It simply wasn't substantive enough, and it demanded too many suspensions of disbelief, left too many plot holes, too many unanswered questions. Like Mark Bellison, the movie had an interesting idea, but shrugged off the details as much as possible. It did a good job of showing a believable start for religion as being just completely made up. It made sense, as such. But then... eh. It oversimplifies religion, even while demonstrating how much potential complexity there is to it all. I suppose it would be utterly unreasonable to expect a movie to address issues that religion has been working on for thousands of years (and btw, it's interesting that when someone mentions millions of years, it doesn't even occur to Mark to say- what to him would have been a lie- that humanity had only been around for thousands of years). But I still don't think the writers made enough of an effort on the "big idea" for any viewer to give it the full consideration it might actually deserve.
But, like I said... it was definitely funny. And far from the worst romance I've ever seen. *shrug*