Invention of Lying, The
PG-13
Entertainment: +2
Acceptability: -2

Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Fionnula Flanagan, Rob Lowe, Tina Fey. Comedy. Written & directed by Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson.

FILM SYNOPSIS: In an alternate reality where lying—even the concept of a lie—does not exist, everyone—from politicians to advertisers to the man and woman on the street—speaks the truth and nothing but the truth with no thought of the consequences. But when a down-on-his-luck loser named Mark suddenly develops the ability to lie, he finds that dishonesty has its rewards. In a world where every word is assumed to be the absolute truth, Mark easily lies his way to fame and fortune. But lies have a way of spreading, and Mark begins to realize that things are getting a little out of control when some of his tallest tales are being taken as, well, gospel. To relieve his dying mother’s fears, he begins telling her of an afterlife, complete with a “Man in the Sky” and a mansion for everyone. With the entire world now hanging on his every word, there is only one thing Mark has not been able to lie his way into: the heart of the woman he loves.

PREVIEW REVIEW: For those of us who believe in the “Man in the Sky,” the satirical scenario here comes awfully close to blasphemy. By film’s end, Mr. Gervais and his accomplices make the statement that there is no “Man in the sky,” the implication being that storytellers from long ago sat around the newly invented campfire and created the mythology of a life after death and a Celestial Being who formed the universe.

Up until the conclusion, Mr. Gervais had me interested in his parable about where and when not to tell lies. Then as the ending became a humanist rendering for all things spiritual, I looked back over the entire production and found it to be a sad commentary presented by people who seemingly don’t believe in God. Now, I don’t want to give the impression that all nonbelievers hold to the same philosophy that comes across in this film. That would be as prejudicial as those who think there is no room for contrary views to the big bang theory. I’m simply trying to understand why this particular filmmaker would want to so blithely dismiss the existence of a Higher Being.

The lead lies to the bank, taking more money – lots more – than his account holds in order to pay his rent. While that deed may seem just “sticking it to the man,” as it were, no matter the justification, it’s still stealing. He later does the same in order to provide for a homeless man. Isn’t that sweet? He cares about the homeless, so he takes money from a teller who has no concept of thievery. He makes up phony historical events in order to sell a documentary script. No one has a concept of fiction or deception, so the protagonist becomes rich and famous through deception. And we the audience go along with it, because his rival is a bully and a braggart. We never think about the fact that while that man is unlikable, he does do his job well. And while our “hero” ultimately decides he can’t deceive the lady he adores, he spends most of the film doing just that.

Is it a morality tale? I suppose, but one based on a human conception, rather than one handed down through biblical Scripture.

I’m not sure how one can view the satirical use of Pizza Hut boxes as tablets for the lead’s revised Ten Commandments without some unease. While these new directives on pizza boxes come across as humorous, it’s also painfully apparent that the satirist has no regard for the meaning of reverence. This mocking of Moses and God’s commands says something about those who make movies and about those of us who support them. Much has been given up or ignored in order to allow artists an interpretation of the human condition: modesty, civility, spiritual deference, and most alarmingly for people of faith, an unapologetic irreverence and contempt for sacred matters.

While Ricky Gervais comes across here as a sweet-natured everyman, modest and kind, at film’s end he says there is no Man in the sky, the message unmistakable: there is no God. How would you like having that on your head? For the sake of comedy success, you base your movie on the premise that God was created by man to aid those afraid of the dark?

DVD Alternatives: A Man Called Peter. Richard Todd, Jean Peters. Sincere account of Peter Marshall, a Scotsman who became U.S. Senate chaplain. Tinged with a bit of schmaltzy Hollywood biography, the film comes alive with the recitation of actual sermons given by this devout man of God. You will be inspired by these sermons and be astonished at how well they relate to the times in which we live.

Ponette. French with subtitles from 1997. After the death of her mother, a child attempts to understand where her mother is and believes if she can get close enough to God, He will send the mother back. Sometimes difficult to view, as we are frustrated that we cannot relieve her sadness, but it is an insightful look at the world of children, and contains an uplifting ending. The performances of the three lead children make for great adult entertainment. There’s a positive portrayal of a Christian woman who relates the story of Christ to this little one. Four-year-old Victoire Thivisol won the 1996 Venice Film Festival Best Actress that year. How they got such a dynamic, moving performance out of this cherub is beyond me, but even if she never does another thing, this little girl has greatly contributed to the world of art. Not rated (3 or 4 obscenities, but I caught no misuse of God's name; adult subject matter as the loss of a parent and subsequent unhappy searching for her mother may disturb children).

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Distributor: Warner Bros.

Summary
Crude Language: There are several minor crudities, mainly expletives and some sexual comments.
Obscene Language: One f-word, one s-word; as the group gets an interpretation of how the “Man in the sky” causes good and evil, a group starts calling Him names such as bastard and even worse. It’s played for laughs. I didn’t laugh.
Profanity: None
Violence: None
Sexual Intercourse: As the film opens, the woman, telling truths, explains to her date that she’s going upstairs to masturbate. This is a long-running verbal gag.
Nudity: None
Homosexual Conduct: None
Sexually Suggestive Action/Dialog: Several sexual conversations, some graphic.
Drug Abuse: Lots of drinking throughout; a drug reference.
Other: None
Running Time: 99 minutes
Intended Audience: Mature viewers

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