The Invention of Lying

The story has lots of potential but I thought the execution could have been much better. "Telling the truth" in this movie means two things; one, you say whatever's on your mind all the time, and two, you believe everything people hear all the time. Even before he starts lying, Ricky Gervais's character is blessed with a sort of super-awareness that everyone else seems to lack; they take direct remarks in stride, while he reacts like a normal person would to being called fat, or grimacing when someone else is verbally abused. Anthony Lane is correct that this movie is about Gervais lamenting the one thing that he can't change; his physical appearance (this is also a theme in Extras). Even when he becomes rich and famous, the girl he loves turns him down because, as she tells him, she wants her children to be fit. To be honest, most of the truth-telling in here doesn't make it past the subconscious. Women would tell a fat guy no, but they might not be consciously aware that their reason for doing so is an evolutionary stable strategy. Similarly, if you fear another person in real life, it will show up in your mannerisms and choice of conversation, which is telling the truth in its own way. Many times people do things without being aware of why they're doing them. We might tell ourselves we bought a shirt "because it looked good," when in reality the mere act of purchasing makes us feel better and signals to those around us that we're being cared for. I wish Gervais would take this movie a bit more seriously; the subject lends itself to humor, and it's great to get some laughs out of it, but it's possible to do so in a way that's not over the top, or reliant on visual sight gags, like rolling out of bed with a beard and sandals, and with the bedsheet still on, resembling Jesus. The soundtrack is awful and the all-star cast (with cameos from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Bateman, Jonah Hill, Tina Fey, Jeffrey Tambor, Stephen Merchant and Barry from East Enders, among others) is sometimes wasted. Gervais is trying to make points about theism, and the relations between men and women, but sometimes throws them away for a cheap laugh. The "truth," as Gervais shows, is that we want to be lied to. We want lies that comfort us, that insinuate that the world is within our control. For instance, the idea that a woman would decide at the end of the night, or the next morning, whether or not she likes a man, when most evidence shows that women know within about thirty seconds of meeting someone whether they want to sleep with them.  Or that handing your resume to the HR people at the career fair counts for anything, that average guys can get beautiful women, like they do in movies, or that we'll go on to heaven after we die; I could go on and on. How do we know those people are being honest? Most of the time, we don't. We lie to comfort others, or rationalize to comfort ourselves, and they do the same for us. Lies pervade our culture and make living more pleasant. I wish they'd gotten a more thoughtful treatment.

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