Review: "Invention" Invites Controversy

"The Invention of Lying", the new film from comedian Ricky Gervais, sparks debate with its polarizing views on religion.

The Invention of Lying, the new inflammatory (and very funny) comedy from TV mastermind Ricky Gervais, starts off simply enough.

 In a world where people can only tell the truth, one man (Gervais) discovers that he's able to lie, and in doing so finds he can get whatever he wants.The film proceeds along as an inverse of “Liar, Liar,” full of jokes in which characters casually mention of how often they masturbate. Then, about halfway through, Gervais’ Mark Bellison goes to visit his dying mother.

 Trying to comfort her, he uses his newfound powers to tell her about the paradise she’ll soon be entering to spend eternity with everyone she’s ever loved. Suddenly, Bellison has unintentionally invented religion, and Gervais, who wrote and directed the film with Mathew Robinson, has given the audience his view that in a world without lying, there is no God.

 This has caused a bit of a stir.

 As a religious person who was warned of the film’s content beforehand, I was surprised by how inoffensive it was. Gervais’ view of how people turn to religion for comfort in the face of the unknown might be simplistic, but it’s not inaccurate, and it isn’t insensitively portrayed. That the film manages to explore this idea is impressive. That it manages to do so without sacrificing laughs is remarkable. A gag in which Bellison delivers rules to his newfound followers, written, in lieu of stone tablets, on the back of two Pizza Hut boxes, was a particular favorite, and possibly the best ever use of product placement.

Part of what makes the concept seem more derogatory than necessary is the film’s title. Equating religion with lying is (purposely) provocative, and also an inaccurate summation of the film’s concept. It isn’t simply that people in this film can’t lie. They can’t understand anything that can’t be seen (I suppose “The Invention Of The Ability To Understand Concepts That Aren’t Backed Up By Tangible Proof” doesn’t roll off the tongue).This includes not just the ability to lie, but also to grasp fiction, use sarcasm, and see someone for who they are beneath the surface.

People in the film’s world choose friends and partners based on their physical appearance and financial stability, without a thought given to traits that aren’t physically apparent. It’s a fascinating connection the film makes, that from our ability to lie stems our ability to love.

With these ideas at play, when the movie returns to its central plotline of whether Bellison can convince the girl of his dreams (Jennifer Garner) to be with him instead of her much more physically compatible suitor, it seems insignificant by comparison. That the ending of the film has any power is a testament to the performances of Gervais and especially Garner, who emerges as the heart of the film. While Gervais’ Bellison may be the lead, he is at least somewhat aware of the world’s absurdities from the beginning. It’s Garner’s character we see struggle to look beyond the surface and follow her heart, even if it means having fat, snub-nosed children. It’s subtle and touching work. 

Running a mere 99 minutes, the film can’t fully explore all of its concepts. We’re left with questions, such as what happens now that religion has entered this world. By showing a couple fighting at both the beginning and the end of the film, Gervais seems to be saying that the world would stay the same with or without religion. This highly debatable view could have used much more discussion. Also, some characters simply give up on life, figuring they’ll just wait for paradise in the next one. But the film doesn’t take the logical next step and have someone put a bullet in his brain in order to get there now, forcing Bellison to confront the consequences of his lie. Although, to be fair, that might be a difficult situation to elicit a laugh from, even for Gervais. 

However, the fact that the film leaves us pondering these questions at all is praiseworthy, and extremely rare. It’s said that religion is a topic to be avoided on first dates, and this has been applied to comedy films as well. Before the movie started, I saw a commercial for the DVD release of “Year One,” a film from earlier this year. Based on the Bible, it somehow managed to avoid making a single statement about religion. Gervais and company show no such fear.

“Isn’t it great if it does start a conversation?” Jennifer Garner recently asked at the Toronto Film Festival, addressing the prospect of controversy. “Religion is something worth examining and your faith is something worth questioning. So I think if this movie asks that of people, that’s not a bad thing."

I agree, and would add that if a movie can do that while including gags about masturbation, even better.



Very good, I really enjoyed

Very good, I really enjoyed it. Is there somewhere I can check out more about it?

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