If you can’t lie, can you still be happy?

The Invention of Lying opens with a series of relentlessly logical episodes in a world where everyone always tells the truth, and then slips in the implication that religion is possible only in a world that has the ability to lie. Then it wraps all of this into a sweet love story.

Actor Ricky Gervais is pictured following an interview about his film "The Invention of Lying" during the Toronto International Film Festival  in Toronto

Actor Ricky Gervais is pictured following an interview about his film "The Invention of Lying" during the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto

The Invention of Lying

Three and a half stars

Classified: PG-13 (for language including some sexual material and a drug reference)

The Invention of Lying opens with a series of relentlessly logical episodes in a world where everyone always tells the truth, and then slips in the implication that religion is possible only in a world that has the ability to lie. Then it wraps all of this into a sweet love story.

Ricky Gervais plays a pudgy everyman named Mark, who is a writer for a company that produces movies of stunning tedium.

In his world, a retirement home is called A Sad Place Where Homeless Old People Come to Die. Pepsi ads say: “For when they don’t have Coke.”

When Mark goes on a date with Anna (Jennifer Garner), she says she finds him unattractive, there will never be any possibility of sex, and he is not a good genetic sperm source. The waiter tells them he hates working and that Anna is out of Mark’s league.

You see how it goes.

Mark lives in a city with bland people and no anger. He’s a nice man, in that sneaky-smooth Gervais way, and would like to console his mother (Fionnula Flanagan), who is dying in a Sad Place, etc. One day he undergoes an astonishing revelation. He knows his bank balance is $300, but he tells the teller he has $800. She hands him the money.

He can lie! With his new power, Mark tells his mother that death doesn’t lead to oblivion, but to a wonderful afterlife. Of course everyone believes him. The word races around the world, and people beg for details.

Then, in one of the funniest satirical scenes I can remember, Mark stands on his front steps and informs the world there is a Man in the Sky, and they will be happy up there with him after death. This Man, Mark explains, is responsible for everything. “Even my cancer?” a woman asks.

What we have here, in microcosm, is the paradox of a benevolent god creating a world of evil. Mark is hard-pressed to explain it, but greater men than he have tried.

Watching the movie, I thought — oh, yeah, that’s right: It’s October. Good movies are allowed again.

Roger Ebert is a syndicated Chicago Sun-Times movie critic.

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