Invention of Lying, The (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for language including some sexual material and a drug reference.
Length: 99 minutes
Grade: AC?A+=A-
Budget: $18.5 million
Box Office: $35 million (18 U.S., 14 Intl., 3 DVD)

Written and Directed by: Ricky Gervais (First movie, lots of TV) and Matthew Robinson (First script/film)
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, and Rob Lowe
With: Jonah Hill, Jeffrey Tambor, Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Christopher Guest, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton, and Michael Caine.

In a world otherwise identical to ours, no one has the ability to lie or even to keep their honest opinions to themselves. In this world where everyone is 100% gullible, one man inadvertently develops the ability to lie, which gives him a chance with a beautiful woman and also leads him to invent religion.

Entertainment Value: A
This is a brilliant concept for a movie, which is executed at every turn with wit and insight. The implications are wonderful, and the exploration a delight. I’m a big fan of Ricky Gervais, and this doesn’t disappoint. I must have laughed out loud dozens of times.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sex/Nudity C, Violence B, Language C
There are several conversations that involve sex, and a scene where sex is about to happen but doesn’t. Casual alcohol consumption is present throughout. The language is right in the middle of PG-13. Suicide is discussed by one person. PG-13 is just right here. Also, I’m not sure younger kids would really grasp this movie anyhow.

Significant Content: ?
In the end, this movie is simultaneously incredibly offensive to religious people and to secularists. See, even though Mark invents Judaism basically, the group of people who want to know more ask him all the most difficult and obvious theological questions that plague theologians such as free will and Divine responsibility and what are the entrance requirements for heaven. On the other hand, (and I worry a lot of religious people might not see this without me mentioning it), the basic fact of how eager everyone is to learn about and believe in this religious mythology derives from the fact of how barbaric and horrid life in a purely secular world is. The movie is quite stinging in its satire of a world that would actually take genetic selection seriously, for instance. So, I think significant content question is going to depend heavily on the viewer. Even the obvious theme of lying is not presented with any clear assessment as to its worth or danger, other than to notice the power lying has.

Artistic/Thought Value: A+
I can’t assume that all people will love this movie as much as I did, but this is a philosopher’s dream of a movie because it so effectively explores the nature of lying by isolating it within a world where it doesn’t happen. In the process, it forces us to consider just how pervasive lying, politeness, and withholding of honesty are in our everyday lives. Brilliant! And funny.

Discussion Questions:
~In this movie, Mark invents a religion which looks to many like Christianity but which is all about doing good works rather than accepting the sacrifice of Christ. If someone were going to invent a religion, would it be works-oriented or would it be Christianity? What it is about Christianity which is so counter-intuitive and unlikely to be invented? What does this say about the likely validity of Christianity?
~In The Republic, Plato discusses the Noble Lie, which makes life in his utopian nation possible. Others have often said that even if religion isn’t true, it’s a very useful myth. Why do you think that people who offer this idea seem incapable of internalizing it strongly enough to simply stop saying that they think religion is false? In what sense would the religion of this movie be useful for people? If you knew that your religious beliefs were false, would you still advocate them for the benefit of others? What does the Bible have to say about the consequences if Christianity is false (like if the resurrection didn’t happen)?
~Does there seem to be any morality in this world? What implications are there for the connection between morality and religion?
~Do you think that refraining from saying something you honestly believe is a form of lying? In all cases or only with respect to people you are close to? Have you ever tried to do this? Do we owe all people the honor of total self-disclosure? Does God so brazenly disclose Himself to all people? What are the benefits of people not saying everything they think? The people in this world seem rather robotic. Is this because they have no capacity to nuance or control their self-disclosures? Or are they miserable because no one is ever allowed to believe anything about themselves or the world other than the most abrasive truth?
~The people in this world are perfectly gullible but also quite clever. When they use their cleverness to make sense of the lies they are told, you might say they are being perfectly charitable in their credulity. How is this useful? How does lying and the skepticism it breeds in us keep us from seeing unlikely or counterintuitive truths?
~This movie seems to not make any distinction between lies and errors, as though people not only always tell the truth but also always get their assertions right. Do you think people in a world without lying might still have the ability to not believe someone based on inaccuracy?
~It’s been sometimes said that the things a culture most takes for granted are things it doesn’t even realize and may not even have words for. How is this idea shown in this movie? What concepts do you think you may not even have the ability to question?
~Do you think Coke or Pepsi contributed money to this movie?
~Why is lying wrong? Are some lies loving? If you think they are, then what do you think about the idea of God lying to us, since He says He does not and yet perfectly loves? Does love depend on lying? Can you think of any cases where telling the truth would be immoral? Where lying would be virtuous?
~What sort of burdens would it put on you if you knew that everyone else would always believe you? Would it make you more or less likely to lie?
~Do you think this movie is pro-religion or anti-religion? Is this view of religion the writers’ view or were they just playing out the concept of the premise? Do you interpret the immediate thirst these people have for any sort of spiritual revelation as support for the idea that it’s deeply embedded in human nature to yearn for the eternal and the divine?
~Some of the ideas represented here are fairly harsh, such as with respect to nursing homes. Are those ideas really the truth or just the fashionably harshest versions of the possible spectrum of truth on the subject?
This is the first movie I have noticed with the following disclaimer: “No person or entity associated with this film received payment or anything of value, or entered into any agreement, in connection with the depiction of tobacco products.” What do you think of such a statement?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The first date and the conversations with the waiter, the mother, and each other.
~Mark talking with his dying mother.
~The television ad for coke and the bus ad for Pepsi: When they don’t have coke.
~The revelation of the two pizza boxes.
~Sitting in the bar trying to explain the concept of lying to his friends.
~The running theme of what television would be in a world like this. Do you think television would even exist in such a world?

Overall Grade: A-
I highly recommend it. Very entertaining and very thought-provoking.

1 comment:

Naum said...

Definitely anti-religion.

Enjoyed it, nevertheless, as you wrote, entertaining and thought provoking.

No lying, no stories?