Jump to content

The Invention of Lying


Peter T Chattaway
 Share

Recommended Posts

Ricky Gervais, holy terror

Like Gervais, I

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Finally saw it. And I'm a bit surprised to see that I tilt a little more in Frederica's direction than in Kyle Smith's (with Karina Longworth hovering over everything).

While a tweaking of religion is certainly there, it seems to me to be mostly subsumed in the film's larger point that life is brutal and vicious and terminal, and it takes well-intentioned lies to make life bearable and seemingly "meaningful" for people. The one scene that really pursued the religion angle -- when Ricky Gervais rattles off his ten points about the "man in the sky" to an eager crowd waiting outside his apartment -- is rather like the parable-telling scene in Life of Brian, since the focus is less on the thing being preached than on the idiotic members of the crowd who want to nitpick, haggle, and fine-tune every tiny detail of the thing being preached.

Someone above said that he or she had read the screenplay, and that it ended on a Richard Dawkins-style note of mocking true believers. But the finished film itself doesn't come across to me that way at all, for at least two reasons: One, religion is just one of the many things that the Gervais character invents (another of his inventions is a supposedly "true", "historical" account of an incident involving spaceships etc. in the 14th century), and the believers are not mocked for believing in religion any more than they are mocked for believing in any of Gervais's other lies. Two, the film seems to me to have a really, really big problem with the "selfish gene" approach to life. Like, seriously, the Jennifer Garner character tells the Gervais character multiple times that they cannot marry and have kids because she doesn't like his "genetic" material. She really is that clinical about it.

The filmmakers very easily could have told a story in which everyone tells the truth, and people say nice things to each other as often as they say nasty things to each other. But instead, Gervais and company have created a world in which complete "honesty" means a constant trumpeting of one's own vanity, and a constant putting down of other people's egos, and a constant insensitivity to other people's concerns (where, exactly, is the "honesty" in a doctor telling a dying person's son that there is free food to be found elsewhere in the hospital?). And from the beginning, even when he's still a complete truth-teller, the Gervais character has a big problem with this.

So in that sense, I think Frederica is on to something: that the film reflects a frustration with the implications of the sort of reductionism that Dawkins and others espouse. It reflects a yearning for something more. In the world created by the filmmakers, that "something more" can only be had by lying -- apart from his cheating at the bank and the casino, almost all the lies Gervais tells are "good" lies, designed to make people feel better -- and it parallels what you see in some of Woody Allen's films, where self-deception (consious or subconscious, intentional or accidental) is what keeps life meaningful. In the real world, though, there is always the hope that stories are not just fiction, not just lies we tell to construct meanings that evaporate when the story-tellers and story-hearers die; there is always the hope that our stories are tapped into some sort of bigger Story, and in some strange way, I think this film may tap into that hope, even if it is constructed in such a way as to thwart it. (Can you tell a meaningful story about a world in which no stories have any ultimate meaning? It's that dilemma we saw in the planetarium sequence in Jesus of Montreal, all over again.)

Side note (no major spoilers, but possibly one or two very minor ones): One of the first people Gervais lies to is a woman he meets on the sidewalk: she immediately brushes him off, but when he says that the world will end if they don't have sex, she immediately, desperately tries to get him to sleep with her. Gervais feels bad about this, so he immediately calls it off -- picking up the phone and pretending it's NASA telling him the world is safe again. The woman rejoices and falls back on the bed, happy that she no longer has to have sex with Gervais, and she exclaims, "Thank you! thank you!" My question is this: In a world without any sort of God, who is this woman thanking?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Side note (no major spoilers, but possibly one or two very minor ones): One of the first people Gervais lies to is a woman he meets on the sidewalk: she immediately brushes him off, but when he says that the world will end if they don't have sex, she immediately, desperately tries to get him to sleep with her. Gervais feels bad about this, so he immediately calls it off -- picking up the phone and pretending it's NASA telling him the world is safe again. The woman rejoices and falls back on the bed, happy that she no longer has to have sex with Gervais, and she exclaims, "Thank you! thank you!" My question is this: In a world without any sort of God, who is this woman thanking?

NASA...? B)

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
Harold and Maude
 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Haven't popped in here for a few days so not had time to post the link to my own review. I think I broadly agree with Peter - even noting that it's not so much the lying is the problem. In summary I enjoyed it less as a film than I'd hoped, but more interesting to review than I'd expected. And the product placement was awful.

Matt

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Fascinating film. I found it interesting, in a backhanded kind of way. In my review I make similar observations. Here is part of what I observed:

Although the film exaggerates the discomfort we might have with unwavering honesty by having everyone say everything they are thinking, you nevertheless can

Since 1995 we have authored a commentary on film, cinema in focus. Though we enjoy cinema as an art form, our interests lie not so much in reviewing a film as in beginning a conversation about the social and spiritual values presented. We, therefore, often rate a film higher or lower due to its message rather than its quality of acting or film-making.

Cinema In Focus Website

Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara Website

Link to comment
Share on other sites

FWIW -- and forgive me if I said this earlier -- I think one of the other themes at work here is the way that "honesty" seems to entail keeping everything shallow and superficial. This is a world with no fiction and no flattery, we are told (although we do see advertisements for movies starring the audience's favorite "readers", etc.), and in some ways it almost seems like a world with no metaphors, or no nuances in the language.

There is a scene where Jennifer Garner's character says she'll be "ugly" when she gets older, and Ricky Gervais's character says "no you won't, not to me, not on the inside" or something of that sort -- and Garner seems confused by his statement. It is as though the word "ugly" has only one meaning for her, and she doesn't know how to process Gervais using the word in a different way.

I wonder if the film's treatment of religion could be handled in a similar way. Religious language is nothing if not metaphorical and symbolic, and what comes through in this film (or at least in PARTS of this film) is the way some of the thicker-headed people are simply incapable of understanding religious terminology in that sort of way. Like I say, the scene where Gervais preaches from the pizza boxes is kind of like that scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian where Brian tries to tell a parable about a man with two sons, and people keep yelling things like "What were their names?" and Brian keeps saying "It really doesn't matter," etc. It may or may not be a mockery of actual religious beliefs, but in some ways it is more of a mockery of a certain kind of person that we often find in religious communities.

I wonder if anybody in the world of this movie ever uses expressions like "the sun is rising." If they are absolute sticklers for accuracy and honesty, they would have to admit that the sun does not "rise"; rather, the earth spins, and sometimes it hides the sun from our view, and sometimes it doesn't. (I am thinking here of the bit where we hear that a satellite has gone searching for that "man in the sky" that Gervais talked about.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

S.T. Karnick has what may be my favorite take on the movie so far -- and it dovetails very well with what I wrote in my previous post:

What motivates Mark to invent an afterlife is something we’ve seen nothing of to this point: love. His sympathy for his dying mother inspires him to tell her that there is hope beyond death. It’s important to note that neither Mark nor anyone else in the film shows actual evidence of loving another person until this moment, when Mark has already invented lying.
The lying gene is strangely connected to the ability to love. As we will see, the key to both is imagination.
. . .

This is all very difficult for the people to understand, as the early scenes and a park-bench conversation with Anna have established that what people lack most of all in this fictional world is imagination. They cannot see past the surfaces of things.

Soon after his invention of The Man in the Sky, however, people begin to lose their concerns about practical matters and set their thoughts on the next. (Here, too, the difference with Christianity is evident, as Christians are explicitly called to love one another and be good stewards of the blessings given to them in this world.) Their new concern for the next life is manifested in the same way as their previous concerns for this one, however, because they remain selfish and still don’t have love for one another.

Eventually, however, even that changes, as Anna comes to see that a fat little boy tormented by bullies is “so much more than fat little Brian.” She starts to imagine what is behind the boy’s dumpy, genetically unattractive surface. . . .

So what we have here are two worlds. One, without God and controlled by thoughts of evolution, is a spectacularly dreary, unhappy place without love or meaning. On the other hand, even a fictional God brings the world meaning, joy, liberty, and wonder.

Thus although Ricky Gervais has publicly said that his film takes an atheist position, it appears that even he cannot imagine a happy, emotionally fulfilling world that does not acknowledge a good many fundamentally religious thoughts, and in particular Christian ones.

This almost begins to remind me of Puddleglum (in C.S. Lewis's The Silver Chair) and his statement that he's going to live as much like a Narnian as possible, even if there really is no Narnia, because even a made-up Narnia is better than the dreary world that the Green Witch would have everybody live in. The difference, it seems, is that Lewis believed made-up Narnias were ultimately rooted in our subconscious memory/belief in the real Narnia, whereas Gervais, like many other serious comedians, believes that the made-up Narnias are all we have. "We need the eggs," as Woody Allen once put it.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...