In the realm of forgotten movies of 2009, The Invention of Lying reigns supreme. While this sounds like a callous thing, I mean it the best kind of way. It has this surprisingly amusing quality about it, but I’m not sure if that’s because of the movie itself or the fact that it was rendered completely forgettable after the few weeks it spent in the theaters. However, what was surprising was that it had more to offer than simply laughs. Maybe this was because this whole concept of “religious satire” isn’t exactly a selling point and most people seem to get crazy up in arms about their religious beliefs, but leave it to Ricky to go where no Hollywood executives feel entirely comfortable going.
At the surface of the film, is the story of a man, Mark, who’s down on his luck in a world where everyone tells the truth. However, everything starts to go his way when he realizes that he has the ability to lie. It’s not entirely clear how he got this ability or if he was born with this ability, but this of little concern. While the film definitely benefits from its all-star cast and a plethora of cameos, it suffers from its inability to recognize the weight of its own message. This isn’t a true deficiency in the movie itself, but rather in its presentation, specifically the way the movie was marketed, and I’m almost sure that directly affected its reception. They tried to make it into something they could package to teens, but it’s difficult to think of many teens who would enjoy actually having to think about some of the heavier themes of the film. Actually, not even specifically teens but most mainstream audiences don’t want to be burdened with moral and ethic quandaries in their comedic fare.
Although the movie is light hearted and enjoyable for the first half, it takes on a certain weight towards the end of the film when Mark, the only man with the ability to lie, inadvertently invents religion. While I personally found it funny, and an admitted opponent of most organized religions, Mark’s specific creation is the idea of heaven because of his inability to cope with the idea of “infinite nothingness”. It straight up mocks people’s reliance on the notions of good and evil as a way to give meaning to their life. I mean, it’s a pretty heavy concept. However, taking that on and making jokes at its expense is something few people have been able to do effectively. Ricky Gervais needs to commit to it more wholeheartedly in order to make it truly effective.
Regardless, the film itself is fun. Its transition from lighthearted and carefree to a heavier and more ethical piece is somewhat jarring, but I personally found it enjoyable. Then again, when approaching the topic of lying, it’s almost impossible to discuss it without figuring ethics into it. Nevertheless, it was an unexpected surprise and a delight to see that Ricky Gervais was taking jabs at the institution of religion, transforming The Invention of Lying from a somewhat frivolous movie into a surprisingly thought-provoking religious satire.