Ricky Gervais’s The Invention of Lying is sneakily subversive. It starts out as a very clever science fiction comedy: We’re in an alternate universe where lying doesn’t exist. As such, there is no fiction, and total truth in advertising.
“A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People,” reads the sign on the entranceway to an old age home.
“When There’s No Coke,” reads a billboard for Pepsi. (Heh.)
People, too, feel compelled to blurt out the truth: “I’m embarrassed to work here,” says a waiter as he approaches a table where our hero Mark (Gervais) is on a date with beautiful Anna (Jennifer Garner.) “I’m out of your league,” she tells mark matter-of-factly.
When Mark gets fired from his job as a “screenwriter” (films are essentially historical readings) he finds himself in danger of being evicted. He goes to the bank to withdraw his final $300 and, in an epiphany, discovers that he can lie about the amount he has in his account. (He’s a nice guy. He says he has $800.) He has, as the title says, invented the lie.
Now he’s the most powerful person in the world, the only one who can wield the mysterious and magical power of falsehood.
All this is great—and laugh out loud funny at times. (The film also has some A-list cameos, including Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a bartender and Edward Norton as a cop.)
But things start taking a turn for the philosophical when Mark “invents” heaven to soothe his dying mother.
Suddenly, Mark becomes a prophet, who also invents an all-knowing being called “The Man in the Sky.”
In other words, the film could also be called The Invention of God. Clever, yes. Subversive? Depends on your own set of beliefs. But once Mark turns into Moses (he uses Pizza Hut boxes as tablets), the film gets weighed down a bit by its own ambition. Still, you’ve got to give Gervais credit. The man does nothing halfway.