My husband and I recently watched the movie “The Invention of Lying,” written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson (at Internet Movie Database). I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard more about this film sooner; I thought it was one of the most interesting and though-provoking movies I’ve seen in a while.
It starts as a romantic comedy of sorts, and a brilliant one at that. Sharp and witty and pushing the edge of its PG-13 rating, the film explores an alternate reality in which no one can ever lie. Ever. They don’t even have a concept for it. Now isn’t that a funny place to tell a story about a fat man looking for love?
Except the movie doesn’t stop there. When main character Mark does manage to break the mold and tell a lie, a whole new world opens up, for him, and for the audience. It’s not about lying to get girls in bed or to make easy money. Mark discovers something incredible.
(Mild spoilers ahead, but I try to be good about it)
Mark has discovered not just lying, but a whole series of stuff about saying something that isn’t. You see, by inventing “lying,” he has also discovered creativity, storytelling, and fiction. He has created, at least for himself, a concept of truth and honesty, because now he has a choice about when he will lie and when he won’t. This plays out very dramatically in a scene where he could get everything he wants– not money or sex, but what he really, truly wants– if he’d just tell a little lie. Mark discovers that he now sees the world in a different way, not only by what is, but by what could be, and he sees in people not only what they look like, but what they seem like, who they are inside. He’s discovered, although he never names it as such, hope. (here comes the spoiler-y bit)
And that’s ultimately what I think he’s trying to express when he invents his biggest “lie,” religious belief.
I was prepared for that to be really offensive, and at first glance it is. The film seems to suggest that faith is a lie, something we invent to give ourselves hope, to make ourselves less afraid of what happens after we die. What Mark invents is exactly that, and as he discovers, it’s not transformative or life-changing, it doesn’t help others see the world the way he sees it, and it ultimately doesn’t bring hope or change to anyone because it’s only an empty promise about the afterlife and some removed “guy in the sky” and not a way to change *this* life and live with new priorities, new eyes.
And I agree. When we strip faith down to be something like that, to be a series of empty promises about heaven and hell and how to get to one and avoid the other, we take something transcendent and holy and we turn it into a lie. We make it a silly story we tell ourselves to be less afraid and alone in life, and we strip it of any power to transform us and the world. We create our own religion, which has little or nothing to do with the powerful gift God is trying to give us. I believe that what God offers us, when truly understood (which we see only in glimpses most of the time), is powerful and profound and life-changing. Like Mark’s discovery, it should free us to live more deeply and fully, to express free will and choice and creativity, to love passionately and honestly, to be a part of something much more than ourselves or the survival of our species, but the lifeblood of all that is, a part of the vast and sacred scope of all of creation.
But instead, we boil it down to our own desires: safety, security, a relief from fear and loneliness. We take God’s gift of faith and we make it into a human invention of religion, empty, powerless, devoid of any transformation or lasting hope.
We render it a lie.
Like I said, the film got me thinking. I recommend it, and if you watch it and want to discuss it, I’m happy to kick around ideas some more. Enjoy!