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Movie review: The Invention of Lying

Directors: Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson
Writers: Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson
Stars: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Luis C.K., and Jonah Hill

This story is not entirely a new idea. Think back to Galaxy Quest, where aliens assumed a Star Trek-like show was real because they had no concept of fiction. And many years ago, I read a science fiction novel (I think it was All the Colors of Darkness, by Lloyd Biggle, but I could be remembering wrongly) in which the earth was in a virtual quarantine because we, alone of all the known species, could lie.

In this movie, Earth looks pretty much the same as what you see out the window (if you live in New England), not futuristic in any way. Ricky Gervais explains in a voice-over that no one can lie; it's not just that they must speak truth or keep silent, they can't hold back any thought. If they think it, out of their mouths it comes. When Mark Bellison (Gervais) goes on a date with Anna McDoogles (Garner), the waiter asks openly if she would give him her number (she says no) and then tells Mark she is way out of his league.

Mark knows that, but he has had a crush on Anna since high school. Actually, high school probably wasn't that much worse an experience on Mark's earth, come to think of it. At least the truth-blurters aren't, for the most part, trying to be cruel.

An exception is Brad Kesller, Mark's rival for Anna and at work. Brad and Mark both write “scripts” that are really just descriptions of historical events, narrated by talking heads employed as on-camera talent (and I use the word loosely) at Lecture Films, where Mark and Brad both work. When Mark gets canned from his job for not making the Black Plague interesting enough, he is so desperate that something fires in his brain and he tells a lie that results in him getting money that isn't really his.

Mark can't even explain what he did to Anna. The words truth and lie don't exist in his world. All he can say is, “I said something that wasn't.” And then, in an effort to make his mother less afraid of dying, he basically invents religion, and everyone believes what he said to her. You could even call it “The Gospel According to Mark.” I don't think anyone uses that line in the movie, but they certainly could have. After he's rejected by Anna, Mark lets his hair and beard grow and spends his time sleeping; when he answers the door wrapped in the bedclothes, his appearance is deliberately Biblical.

The two intersecting plot lines are Mark's love for Anna, and the consequences of his using his strange ability to lie. Mark gains wealth and power, but life isn't as good as he thought it would be. That's partly because he doesn't have Anna. As she tells him honestly, she wants someone who can give her the children she wants, children who won't be chubby, snub-nosed losers. For her, that means she should marry Brad. Finally, Mark finds his limit; there are things he won't lie about to get what he wants.

It's a charming, very funny story, and I enjoyed watching it. I do wish, though, that Hollywood would stop making movies that illustrate looks are less important than what's inside a person by having a schlubby guy fall for a beautiful woman who learns to love him back. Why can't the guy be the one to learn looks aren't that important by falling for a not-so-gorgeous woman?

Still, this was spec fic that illustrates one of the joys of speculating. It's much easier to skewer human foibles if you can alter your characters' genetic make-up in any way that you like.


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( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 12th, 2011 10:39 am (UTC)
Good luck with getting Hollywood to cast ordinary looking people as the love interest.

One amazing thing, is the fact that 1/3 of US citizens are classified as obese -- not a criticism of them, btw, I'm just illustrating a point... But when you see a street scene in a US movie, it's not just the main characters who are skinny, but ALL of the people in the background are skinny too. All the passers-by etc. Every single one of them. Bizarre.
Apr. 12th, 2011 12:04 pm (UTC)
I agree on the extras. And they aren't just thin, they are mostly better looking than average, too. I used to like to watch East Enders just because the average people actually looked average, even the leads! Now, in this movie, there are obese and chubby people but they are all male. The "love interest" can be chubby so long as he is male.
Apr. 12th, 2011 12:05 pm (UTC)
Too true! Females get a rougher deal on this, but *mostly* the guys have to be dreamy too...
Apr. 12th, 2011 12:08 pm (UTC)
Of course, as you will note from the credits I listed, Ricky Gervais has a leg up in the casting department. :-)
Apr. 12th, 2011 12:09 pm (UTC)
Apr. 13th, 2011 04:47 am (UTC)
Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!

Apr. 13th, 2011 12:10 pm (UTC)
I saw that movie with my parents. My Dad and I enjoyed it, my mother thought it was silly. I'm guessing it was because she's the one who wants to go to church while we would get dragged by her.

I've had this pet theory that if everyone had to start telling each other the truth, we'd hate each other for at least a month until we adjusted to the new reality of more reality. I might actually like a world in which everyone had to tell the truth or shut up, which isn't that world, but a much quieter one than the real one. And, oh, god the politics! haha
Apr. 13th, 2011 12:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, I think total truth telling would lead to a terrible rise in assaults and homicides! I think both politicians and lawyers would suffer terribly under such a situation. Another excellent movie about this subject is LIAR, LIAR, one of the few Jim Carey movies I really liked.
Apr. 13th, 2011 09:42 pm (UTC)
When I think of good Jim Carrey movies, it's Liar Liar, The Truman Show, and Cable Guy, the last being the darkest of the three. CG was the only one my ex-wife thought any good, mostly because she said most of the people in her family were like CG.
Apr. 13th, 2011 08:10 pm (UTC)
Excellent post I must say.. Simple but yet interesting and engaging.. Keep up the awesome work!

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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