Movie Review: The Invention of Lying

Occasionally a movie can sell itself to me entirely on its premise alone. A preview can sway me if it shows me an actor I like, or a director I respect, or shows me a movie based on some franchise I’m already interested in… but rarely do I see one that makes me think, “That is such an interesting idea! I can’t wait to see that.” This doesn’t always correlate into my enjoyment of the movie, of course; I thought Children of Men was fantastic, but I Am Legend ended up letting me down. What’s important, though, is that the core ideas of these films struck me as so interesting that I had no choice but get my butt into a seat.

I didn’t see The Matrix in theaters, because it was marketed as a straight-up action movie and, well, I don’t have any particular love for Keanu Reeves. It wasn’t until someone told me what the premise was — that is, spoiled the movie’s biggest plot twist for me — that I decided I had to see it. The concept of everything I know and observe being fabricated in order to keep me a prisoner inside some vast supercomputer was way more exciting than “Keanu Reeves learns kung fu then shoots a bunch of guys.”

The central premise to The Invention of Lying is that humanity never discovered the concept of deception. Nobody ever lies, not even by omission. No little white lies to cover up your mistakes, no holding back to spare someone’s feelings, no sales pitches on television, no fictional entertainment at all. Every thought and emotion you have comes out of your mouth, the hurtful dirty truth, all day every day.

What a cool idea for a movie!

The first thing the movie does is shows you how different this strange, alien world is. A man shows up at a woman’s department for a date. “I’m disappointed you’re early,” she says. “I was upstairs masturbating.”

“That makes me think of your vagina,” the man replies.

An exchange like this would be completely unrealistic in any other movie, in any other setting. But here one has been constructed where it’s not only possible, but inevitable. It’s one thing to have a world where no one deliberately lies; it’s another to have one where everyone is constantly bound to tell the truth. Right away it is hammered into our heads which one we’re in.

A few scenes later, a Coke commercial: “Hi. I’m here to sell you Coke. We know you’re already buying Coke. I just wanted to ask you to please continue buying Coke. I’m Bob. I work for Coke. Just letting you know that Coke is still out there, and it’s still available for sale. Please do not stop buying Coke. Thank you.”

The tagline: “Coke. It’s very popular.”

The premise alone would have been enough to carry the film. Ninety minutes of this absurdity would have been just fine by me, but there is a plot, and it is this: one man, suddenly, develops the ability to lie. The film is about how this man manages to take over the entire world.

Well, not exactly. He does manage to become incredibly wealthy and successful, and inadvertently invents the world’s first religion. The movie is about the man’s struggles to use his new superpower to win the heart of the woman of his dreams who, upon many occasions, has told him she doesn’t want little fat kids with snub noses. Lies can make you rich and famous, but they can’t make you skinny or fix your snub nose, so he’s out of luck. She’s off to marry some rich handsome prick. That’s life, even in a world of truth.

One of my favorite aspects of the film was the kind of lies the man told. Everyone lies in our world, and the trick to getting someone to believe your lies is to weave them realistically. Make them believable. If I were to tell you, “I found a $10 bill on the ground today,” you might believe me; it’s entirely realistic. Even if I didn’t find a tenner, what have you lose if you take me at my word? Very little. But if I said, “You owe me $10,” you would be more skeptical. You didn’t loan me ten bucks. You don’t want to give me ten bucks. “I don’t owe you anything. Go away.”

In a world where people aren’t as guarded, though, any lie you tell can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. “You owe me $10.” “Do I? I must have forgotten. Here you go.”

So this guy, this only-guy-in-the-world-who-can-lie guy, goes around telling fantastic whoppers. Did you know he invented the bicycle? And that he saved a baby from a burning jam factory? And that if you don’t have sex with him right now the entire world is going to end?

Of course his lies get him into trouble. Not because he has to keep lying in order to keep his stack of cards standing, the way we might… but because everyone believes him. When he tells an outlandish story about how we all get mansions in the clouds when we die, people can’t leave it alone. How big is the mansion? Do all my friends get mansions? Can they come live with me in my mansion? If they come live in my mansion what happens to their mansion? It’s the opposite of the boy who cried wolf.

That’s why I recommend this film. It’s hysterical all the way through, both in the interesting world put on display and in how the story about the main character develops his new-found ability. I wouldn’t lie to you, would I?

By the way, you owe me $10.

1 comment to Movie Review: The Invention of Lying

  • Thinaran

    I liked the premise and the ideas the movie had, but they still managed to make a “standard” Hollywood third act. I had expected someone like Ricky Gervais to make something that wouldn’t become all cliche and melodramatic.

    As you write, the setting is absurd. So the movie should keep to absurdity, not deliver another damn love story where the main character breaks up a wedding at the end.

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