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.