OK, everyone, it’s time to do a little soul-searching. When was the last time you told a lie? Don’t worry – I’m not going to ask you to leave the lie in the comments (although by all means, do leave a comment) – I’m just illustrating a point. Chances are, whether it was ‘yes, that dress really suits you’, ‘sorry, the dog ate my homework’, or ‘I’ve never seen those suitcases before in my life’, you’ve told at least one untruth in your time, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They help us avoid confrontation, dodge detention, and spare people’s feelings. Now imagine if you couldn’t lie. Imagine if nobody around you could lie. At all. Ever.
The Invention of Lying, starring Ricky Gervais, takes place in a world where lying just isn’t a thing. So much so that when Gervais’ character, a struggling screenwriter named Mark, tells the first lie ever in the history of the universe, he can’t even explain it. “I said something that… wasn’t.” There’s no concept of true or false to explain it with, because falseness just doesn’t exist. Nor does fiction (imagine the horror, fellow fans-of-things).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. There is no lying in this world, but more than that, every character seems to feel obliged to tell everyone everything – however hurtful – that crosses their mind. It’s like everybody is Anya from Buffy – no filter whatsoever between brain and mouth. There’s no deceit or concealment whatsoever; Mark goes on a date (with the beautiful Anna, played by Jennifer Garner) and is almost immediately informed that Anna’s only there as a favour to his friend and that she doesn’t like his chances of the date being a success. The next morning, he gets into the lift and tells his neighbour all about it before asking him how he is. His neighbour replies that he made a failed suicide attempt the previous night. There is literally nothing these people will not tell each other.
Mark is on the verge of being evicted when he has his breakthrough; the bank cashier tells him the system’s down but he can still withdraw his money; he just has to tell her how much he had in there. His balance is $300; his rent is $800. Suddenly, a connection is made in his mind, and he tells her he had $800 – just as the system comes back online. Nice try, thinks the viewer. But we’ve forgotten something very important; in this world, there is no concept of lying at all. The cashier apologises for the apparent fault with the computer and hands over $800.
Mark sets about putting the world to rights through lying – helping people get money, cleaning out a casino, getting his friend off a DUI, even almost making a woman sleep with him ‘or the world will end’ – alright, maybe not to rights, exactly, but he does help a homeless guy in there somewhere. But lying can’t fix everything, and things get complicated as he tells a lie too big for him and his life rapidly spirals out of control. At the same time, he’s trying to make it as a writer – of factual lectures, of course, delivered straight to camera – and get the girl.
The Invention of Lying is as amusing as you’d expect from something featuring, written and directed by Gervais – pay especial attention to any signage or advertising that comes into shot, because I think this is a film that will bear rewatching for details – but there is a scene about halfway through that had my mother and I sobbing. Genuine sobbing was not something I’d expected from a Gervais film, so be warned. For a film about lying, it also raises some uncomfortable truths about our reality and asks some tough questions about religion and ‘the man in the sky’.
The concept of the film is certainly intriguing, and as mentioned, there’s plenty of humour, pathos and food for thought. The execution, however, is a little odd. As I’ve mentioned, there’s no evidence of people having the ability to keep their thoughts to themselves at all, which seems to confuse the issue a little. Most of the film’s characters seem to have a strange obsession with the genetic code they’re going to be passing down to their hypothetical future offspring – and maybe that is something people think about when choosing a partner in real life, I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s a particularly prevalent trend. The tongue-in-cheek religious references sometimes seem a little heavy-handed, but they’re amusing nonetheless.
All in all, if you want a film to make you laugh, cry, and think really hard, this’ll definitely do the job. However, those of you looking for a fandom – this probably isn’t the film to form one around (although it seems to have a fairly active Tumblr tag). Why? Well, fans tend to poke around looking for hidden secrets, mistakes and extra stories to follow. I have a feeling that if you did that to this film, it would quickly fall apart and, while that gives ample scope for ‘fixing’ it through fanfic, it might also drive you slowly insane.
Eleanor Musgrove (added a polar bear so the kids will like us)
You can buy The Invention of Lying on DVD on Amazon.