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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Invention of Lying

John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Fionnula Flanagan, Ricky Gervais and Jason Bateman star in a scene from the movie "The Invention of Lying."
The fashionable "new atheism"—popularized in book form by such authors as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens—unexpectedly slithers its way into the neighborhood cineplex with the arrival of "The Invention of Lying" (Warner Bros.).

Though its trailer gives no clue as to its true agenda, this venomous supposed comedy is set in a world where lying is unknown and every word spoken is accepted as truth and where—not accidentally, the screenplay implies—God does not exist. Until, that is, failed documentary screenwriter and all-around loser Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) spontaneously discovers the ability to deceive.

After playing on the absolute trust of everyone around him to inflate his bank account and in an abortive attempt to compel an attractive stranger to have sex with him on the grounds that, should she refuse, the world will come to an end, Mark graduates to white lies, encouraging his suicidal neighbor Frank (Jonah Hill), for instance, to remain alive by promising that he has a bright future ahead.

In a similar vein, Mark tries to comfort his dying mother, Martha (Fionnula Flanagan), who is tormented by the prospect of eternal nothingness, by inventing the fable of an afterlife in which she will be reunited with everyone she has ever loved and live in a mansion, experiencing perpetual joy.

The hospital attendants who overhear Mark's reassuring fabrication are thrilled, and word soon spreads that he has some kind of secret knowledge. As crowds besiege his house, Mark works out a ludicrously simple-minded creed which he proclaims at his doorstep, a latter-day suburban Moses with a pair of pizza boxes taking the place of the tablets of the Law.

The main tenets of Mark's freshly minted religion concern a "man in the sky" who controls and directly causes everything that happens—including both disease in individuals and large-scale natural disasters—and who rewards good deeds and punishes evil, though three serious sins per lifetime are forgivable. His credulous listeners accept his teachings with pathetic eagerness, but obsess about the smallest details.

Though he goes on to worldwide fame and great wealth, Mark pines in vain for his elusive friend Anna (Jennifer Garner), who rejects him as a spouse on the grounds that his genes are far inferior to hers.

In a particularly disgraceful scene, Mark, who has become a reclusive heavy drinker, answers the doorbell one day to find Anna on his threshold. She stares at him, and tells him he looks terrible. The next shot reveals that—with long hair and a new beard and wrapped in white bed sheets—Mark in fact looks like a seedy version of Jesus.

Gervais, who co-wrote and co-directed with Matthew Robinson, launches an all-out, sneering assault on the foundations of religious faith such as has seldom if ever been seen in a mainstream film, despicably belittling core Judeo-Christian beliefs. Not only Catholics but believers of every stripe and, indeed, people of good will generally will be well-advised to shun this calculated cinematic insult.

The film contains pervasive blasphemy, some sexual humor and references, and a few rough and crude terms. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is O—morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13— parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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George: If Mary Magdalene was the victim of misunderstanding, George is the object of a vast amount of imagination. There is every reason to believe that he was a real martyr who suffered at Lydda in Palestine, probably before the time of Constantine. The Church adheres to his memory, but not to the legends surrounding his life. 
<p>That he was willing to pay the supreme price to follow Christ is what the Church believes. And it is enough.</p><p></p><p>The story of George's slaying the dragon, rescuing the king's daughter and converting Libya is a 12th-century Italian fable. George was a favorite patron saint of crusaders, as well as of Eastern soldiers in earlier times. He is a patron saint of England, Portugal, Germany, Aragon, Catalonia, Genoa and Venice.</p> American Catholic Blog Jesus was equal to the Father but did not feel it was below his dignity to obey. We cannot be free unless we are able to surrender our will freely to the will of God. We must obey with full freedom in a spirit of unity and submission and through wholehearted free service to Christ.

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