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Film / The Invention of Lying

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Not the movie poster.

"Today I stumbled upon something that no man has ever stumbled upon before. They'll write about me in history books for generations to come. And yet, moments ago, it was unfathomable not only to myself but to mankind as a whole. It's hard to describe but it was as easy as... how do I explain this, I said something that wasn't!"

The Invention of Lying is a 2009 comedy film written, produced, and directed by — and starring — Ricky Gervais, who heads an All-Star Cast that includes Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Louis C.K., Jonah Hill, and Tina Fey. It takes place In a World… that has no concept of fiction, philosophy, hypothesis, or deceit.

In this world of brutal honesty, we find our protagonist, Mark Bellison (Gervais), at the end of a particularly terrible day. When these events finally come to a close, he's lost his job, flat broke, and facing certain eviction from his apartment. Then when all seems hopeless, he's struck by the finest "Eureka!" Moment in recorded history. Mark becomes the first person to come up with the idea of intentional deception. Hilarity Ensues. At first.

The film depicts a world identical to our own, minus the ability to deceive or withhold the truth in any shape or form. This results in people being brutally honest and always saying exactly what they're thinking at a given time. The film initially deals with Mark utilizing his new talent for personal gain, but then moves toward dealing with the more complex concepts of religion and love.

This film contains examples of:

  • Affectionate Parody: Manages to do both types of parodies to religion (particularly Christianity). On one hand, it presents religion as a made-up lie by Mark originally as a way to comfort his dying mother, then completely snowballing from there with Mark making it up as he goes. On the other hand, it's presented as a good thing that gives people hope, even though its basis is a complete fabrication.
  • All Men Are Perverts: When Mark asks what they would do if they could do anything, the guys at the bar unanimously agree it's get women naked and have sex with them.
  • Alternate Universe: The entire premise explores what the world would be like if people are simply incapable of inventing false information for any purpose. It turns out that it's not exactly a pleasant life.
  • Author Tract: Much of the story of the second half of the movie is a very unsubtle poke at religion.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Mark grows one near the end of the film.
  • Blatant Lies: When nobody even knows what a lie is, you can get away with some outlandish stuff.
  • Bleak Abyss Retirement Home: "A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People".
  • Brutal Honesty: Absolutely every method of withholding the truth is alien to this world. That includes lying, omitting the truth, telling only part of the truth, and being at all tactful.
  • Buffy Speak: Since there is literally no word for lying or deception in this world, the only way Mark can describe the first-ever lie was that he "said something that wasn't".
  • The Cameo: Philip Seymour Hoffman (as a bartender), Christopher Guest (as an "actor"), Edward Norton (as a policeman), John Hodgman (as a "priest"), Jason Bateman as a doctor, Stephen Merchant as a rich homeowner, Jeffrey Tambor as a producer, and a few others.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Everyone. It gets to the point where nobody has any imagination. The closest thing to a movie is some guy in a chair reading about history. The fact that Mark can actually give false information is something his friends have trouble grasping, to the point that he gives up a few minutes after trying to explain.
  • Cessation of Existence: Mark's mom says "Death is a horrible thing... Few more hours like this and then an eternity of nothingness."
  • Crapsaccharine World: While nominally a decent place, the world of this movie has no religion and no fiction, making the world a very dry, drab place, and because people are brutally honest (or at least incapable of not blurting out inconvenient truths), everyone is cruel, crass, or prone to over-sharing.
  • Creative Sterility: In a world without lies, many things just don't exist, thus all movies are documentaries recounting fact and history since they have nowhere else to go, creatively speaking. Mark discovers his ability to lie when he accidentally creates the concept of fraud to avoid becoming destitute. Then he invents fiction by returning to his job as a film maker, having "found" an incredibly emotional tale about aliens, and then a second one about a talking duck. They become the highest grossing films in history.
  • Darwinist Desire: Marriage is based only on the perceived genetic fitness of a potential mate. The romantic interest is struggling with picking between this trope and her love of the protagonist.
    • The ability to lie in a world where people only tell the truth is actually a pretty amazing advantage. And the ending shows his kid has the same ability, so he probably is the "fitter" choice.
  • Deconstructive Parody: Manages to do both types of parodies to religion (particularly Christianity). On one hand, it presents religion as a made-up lie by Mark, originally as a way to comfort his dying mother, then completely snowballing from there with Mark making it up as he goes. On the other hand, it's presented as a good thing that gives people hope, even though its basis is a complete fabrication.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Most of the buildings and public works seem to have been named in this way. An old folks' home is emblazoned with "A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People", while the church which appears late in the movie is "A Quiet Place to Think About the Man in the Sky".
  • Fanservice: Jennifer Garner cheerfully and innocently talking about masturbating.
  • First Law of Tragicomedies: For the first half, it's the wacky hijinks of a man lying and everyone accepting it. Then Mark's mom dies and it becomes a serious deconstruction of religion, love, and blind worship.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: From a man who learns to lie in a world of truth to a deconstruction of love and religion.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power:
    • The capacity to tell false information seems to be a benign mutation, but Mark's ability to do it makes him a god amongst men. It's fairly mundane, but it's a tool that's very versatile and simply unheard of. Mark tries to open up to his friends about it, but quickly gives up when it's clear that they just can't wrap their head around how something they hear can be untrue. Extrapolating out that his son can do it too, Mark may have taken the next major step of human evolution in the world of the movie.
    • He's able to exploit this ability to keep himself afloat at first, but later uses it to blatantly benefit himself. Then he uses it to manipulate the emotions of others by inventing fiction (and, arguably, art); he also lies to a loved one regarding an afterlife to comfort her about her impending death, accidentally paving the way to invent religion in the process; each of these changes the face of the world.
  • Humans Are Bastards: In a world without lies or deceit, it seems a great many of us are in fact shallow, self-involved, Jerkasses who place physical looks over love and family.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Somehow, a world without deceit, lies, and in this case, religion, still wound up exactly the same in every other respect.
  • Informed Kindness: Anna is extremely shallow and not selfless in any way, yet Mark claims he loves her because she’s the kindest person he knows. Though to be fair, Mark is capable of lying and his telling her she’s a kind person and her believing it results in the character development of her actually becoming as kind as he sees her as.
  • Language Equals Thought: Mark can't really explain his "power", nor can his friends really wrap their minds around the concept. The closest he can come to explaining his power is "saying something that wasn't."
  • Let Them Die Happy: The reason why Mark invents religion-— his mother was so upset by her imminent demise that he told her she would go to this beautiful place in the sky, and everything would be alright.
  • Like Reality, Unless Noted: The key difference in this world being the complete absence of lying.
  • Look Behind You: Used so Mark can cheat at roulette: "Look at that unusual thing! I've never... oh, it's gone now."
  • Messianic Archetype: The film has been called "Bruce Almighty for atheists." The Mark-Is-Jesus symbology could not be more explicit — walking around "healing" people, bringing religion to the world, even his hair and beard in the penultimate scene — without Mark actually getting crucified at the end. He doesn't. The symbol of the religion that Mark founds is a crucifix-like portrayal of Mark-as-Moses, with his arms outstretched holding the pizza boxes that his commandments were written on.
  • Narrating the Present: In the manuscript that Mark "finds", it mentions him finding it. Since it's in the manuscript, it must be true, right?
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers highlighted the concept and some of the hijinks, while completely ignoring the religion-heavy dramatic second half.
  • Outside-Context Problem: In a world where it was never invented, deception, and those concepts derived from it, can easily be labelled/considered this.
  • Product Placement:
  • Plot Tumor: Once religion is brought into the plot, it takes over the remainder of the movie.
  • Politeness Judo: Used on Mark's father by the man he was burglarizing. When he told the homeowner there was nothing he could do, since he didn't know Mr. Bellison's name, the homeowner then asked "What's your name?" ...which he answered. At least he got a cup of tea out of it.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Mark is tempted, but ultimately doesn't use his abilities to have sex with lots of women, or even win over the woman he loves for that matter. He's actually deeply ashamed that he nearly abused his talent. Although abusing his talent for financial and social gain is well within his moral boundaries.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Think of what the world's first liar ultimately invents-— religion.
    • It was more of an accident; he was only trying to comfort his dying mother by telling her that there was life after death; someone else overheard him. The invention of religion was just a cover.
  • Running Gag: Mark being called a "snub-nosed fat man".
  • Screw the Rules, They're Not Real!: In a World… where everybody tells the complete truth to each other (even going so far as to openly discuss suicidal thoughts and waiters commenting on how they just took a really big dump before serving you food), one man finally decides to tell a non-truth, and after discovering the power of lies in a society where everyone believes everything you say, he begins to use this to his advantage.
  • Self-Proclaimed Liar: Justified because no one in this world can wrap their heads around the concept of lying.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The main concept behind the plot; what would happen if a snub-nosed fat man with no friends or money learned to lie and deceive in a world of overly trustworthy beautiful people?
  • Snowball Lie: Mark's attempt to comfort his dying mother leads very quickly to the invention and universal adoption of religion, which seems to be how the world remains at the end of the film.
  • Super Gullible: No one has ever heard a lie before, so lines like "I'm not here" and "we have to have sex right now or else the world will end" are taken at face value.
  • Take That!:
    • Religion is made of lies! However, the intended message is muddied in Fridge Logic. Ricky Gervais is an atheist, which may explain some things...
    • A subtle one towards the entire film industry. In a world where movies are simply single shots of someone reading a script, the most famous and respected people in Hollywood are... the screenwriters.
  • Too Much Information: Since everyone tells the absolute truth all the time, when Mark shows up early for a blind date with Allison, she tells him she's just been masturbating.