Hidden Gems: The Invention of Lying
By Kyle Lee
April 18, 2017
We so rarely get new movies. I mean movies where the thing is totally full of ideas and really creates something original. Often when we do get those, the movie is rejected for being too weird or different. Ricky Gervais’s The Invention of Lying is an original movie that tried to make itself more palatable by being wrapped in the comfort of a romantic-comedy. It takes place in a world where everyone always tells the absolute truth. Gervais’s Mark Bellison, our hero (although he’s often referred to as “fat loser” by many folks in the truthful universe, including by Gervais himself when delivering the opening narration) is down on his luck. He’s about to be fired by his boss, he has a not particularly successful date with Anna (Jennifer Garner), whom he’s had a crush on for years, and he’s about to be evicted from his apartment. That is, until he tells the world’s first lie.
When he’s trying to describe to his best friend Greg (Louis CK) what he’s done, “I was able to say something…that wasn’t” is the best he can come up with, since the words don’t exist in this world to describe something that’s not true. Even the Pepsi signs in this world read “Pepsi, when they don’t have Coke.”
Mark goes on a series of adventures trying out his new skill, including winning at the casino:
“Yeah, I hit the jackpot on this machine, but nothing came out.”
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry, sir, let’s get you your money.”
And trying to sleep with beautiful women:
“The world’s gonna end unless we have sex right now.”
“Do we have time to get to a motel, or should we just do it right here?”
Things start to go Mark’s way when he writes the first fiction screenplay. Movies up to this point are only readings of historical events, with titles like Napoleon 1812-1813 and The Invention of the Fork. So even though Mark’s script has aliens and a ninja army defeating a giant robot dinosaur, everyone is wondering how they’d never heard of this event instead of thinking it’s a made-up story. But most impactful to this world, we see when Mark’s mother is lying in a hospital bed dying, Mark, desperate to say something to make her feel better, comforts her by accidentally creating religion.
This is where the movie really takes off, in its extended satirizing of religion. People congregate outside of Mark’s apartment so that he can tell them more “about what happens after you die.” Mark quickly invents the idea of “a man in the sky who controls everything.” But that raises more questions than he ever thought it would answer. He must explain that the man in the sky is responsible for all the bad things in the world.
“Is he the one who gave my mom cancer?”
But the man in the sky is also responsible for all the good things in the world, too.
“So he’s the one who cured my mom’s cancer?”
“So the man in the sky is kind of a good guy, but also kind of a prick?”
It starts out wonderfully, as everyone takes comfort in knowing about the man in the sky, but Mark gets bummed out seeing all the people that have stopped living their lives and are just waiting to die so that they can get their mansion in the sky. They stop listening to what they want, and instead wonder what the man in the sky wants for them.