The Invention of Lying
By John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service
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.).
Fionnula Flanagan, Ricky Gervais and Jason Bateman star in a scene from the movie "The Invention of Lying."
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
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
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
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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