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The Invention of Lying: A (theological) Movie

Julie and I walked away from The Invention of Lying discussing the provocative premise of the film. Starring and written by Ricky Gervais, the film has creative British humor and a magnetic story. Human beings only tell the truth no matter how blunt and offensive (to us the viewers) it may seem. The truth-telling people simply take truth as it comes. With this in mind, the opening scenes of the movie jolt the viewers. Here’s an example later in the movie: a server walks up to the Ricky Gervais (Mark) and Jennifer Garner (Anna) as they sit down in a restaurant. The servers looks them over and says without prelude to Gervais, “She is way out of your league.” All TV and movies are straight presentations of facts, i.e., documentaries. In the film, there is not even a noun or verb for “lie” or “to lie”…until it happens. Up until this moment, there was no vocabulary for that which is not. There is no imagination or fantasy or fiction. But Mark’s lie–he says something that does not exist; has no being, and it changes everything.
Observing his mother dying, Mark (Gervais) responds to her saturated fears as she faces the emptiness and nothingness after death. Mark, knowing that he now can lie, creates for his mother the vision of a wonderful after-life with eternal love, mansions, and unending relationships with loved ones. A nurse overhears all this, tells a news reporter, and the story snowballs. How does Mark know all this about the after-life? He says that he hears from “the man in the sky.” People flock to his apartment complex courtyard to learn more about after-life experiences and “the man in the sky.” Mark must to deliver the goods. He writes down 10 statements on Pizza Hut boxes and comes out his door something like Moses coming down from the mountain with the 10 Commandments. It’s funny, and disturbing.
Here’s the point: the god of classical (Calvinistic) determinism comes in for a real drumming. I’ve often wondered if the double-predestinating God of Calvinism–the great unblinking Cosmic Stare–actually spawned the nihilism that swept the Western world. Remember Ernest Hemingway’s parody of the Lord’s Prayer in his very short story “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”? Our Nada who art in nada, nada be thy nada. Thus,  The Invention of Lying is a theological film to the core.
We did not like the caricature of truth-telling as blunt verbal stone-throwing. But even more, lying ends up being the compassionate paradigm of speech. This turns the tables ethically and needs to be deplored. Yet, for all that, this is one film that makes you think, no matter your spiritual or religious leanings.