Truth be told, The Invention of Lying, the recently released-on-DVD film starring Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner, caught me off-guard. I knew the basic premise, that no one ever lies, or even knows how to, but one man, our protagonist Mark Bellison, learns to lie. I assumed the movie would be funny because of Gervais’ leading role. Some parts were funny, in that cringe-inducing way that Gervais seems to have perfected. Some parts were more crass, or even mean, in a darkly comic way. I did not, however, expect an overtly spiritual bent to the last half of the film. If you have yet to see the movie, I recommend that you buy it, rent it, or stream it, watch it, then come back to this article. Especially since I’m going to spoil stuff.
It’s not quite what one would expect from the previews now is it? (For the record, that’s something I love, when previews don’t adequately prepare me for a movie-watching experience. For me, the surprise is more than half the fun and creates twice the interest when watching a film for the first time). Additionally, to see that Gervais himself was responsible for half of the writing credit is intriguing, given his self-assessed deconversion from Christianity to atheism "in one afternoon."
In this world, Mark’s words become instant gospel, truth that is taken at face value, even if it flies in the face of common sense. Mark, like most any human, uses this for his own gain, until he sees how this newly found "power" can be put to better use. The pivotal scene, where the film flips the script and a morality play breaks out, occurs, as it should, in the middle. Mark Bellison’s mother is on her deathbed, her face flushed with fear over her rapidly impending demise to "an eternity of nothingness." In a tearful mess, Mark tells his mother that she’s wrong about the afterlife: "When you die you’re going to go to your favorite place in the whole world. And you’re going to be with all of the people you’ve ever loved and who have ever loved you. And you’re going to be young again, and you’ll be able to run through the fields and dance and jump, and there will be no sadness, no pain, just love and laughing and happiness. There will be ponies made of gold, and everyone will live in giant mansions, and everything will smell like cookies. And it will last for an eternity, Grandma. An eternity."
It’s a powerful scene.
As his mother’s face visibly beams, the camera cuts to the nurses and the Doctor in the room, all of them leaning in with an intensity borne of hopelessness. The Doctor ardently asks, "What else happens?"
Eventually, word about these new details of the afterlife spread and Mark becomes a celebrity, the only man who hears the voice of "The Man in the Sky." He comes up with commandments (of his own making) written on stone-tablet like pizza boxes. The visions he puts forth of the afterlife and how people should treat others ("You get three chances. If you do three bad things you’re out!" "Like baseball?" "Kind of, yes.") are far too reminiscent of what Christianity is perceived to be.
Yet what strikes me as the most intriguing aspect of this film is that a Jesus-less gospel is presented as the biggest lie told to mankind (a question worth pondering on its own merit). I wasn’t sure if Gervais and his writing partner were trying to make fun of Christians, or trying to say something much deeper about faith and belief and honesty, or if they were just trying to make a funny movie. Gervais even takes on the appearance of a stereotypical image of Christ towards the end of the film: bearded, long-haired, sandaled, and robed in white.
But if Gervais has issues with the non-sensical world of Christianity, as evidenced by the article referenced above, why the scene with the dying mother? Why the stark realization that belief in an unrelentingly blissful afterlife is one of the antidotes to the oft-described meaninglessness and harsh reality of our present existence? Why is it made so abundantly clear that people need that kind of hope, that people crave it like water in a desert?
The answer to those questions are: Because it’s the truth. There is an other-worldly afterlife that is far beyond our imagination. Babes in the womb cannot conceive of this massive thing we call life, in all its splendor and variation and color and delight and richness and vibrancy. So too our present conceptions of what is to come after we die.
And the thing is is that everything promised to us, whether or not our version of Heaven is even remotely close to reality or includes ponies made of gold, pales in comparison to the One promised to us, the One who constantly flips scripts, showing the world’s truths to be lies.
There’s one thing I can tell you though; He won’t look like Ricky Gervais.
Blake Atwood is a one-time English major still trying to figure out the plotline of his life. He lives and drums and has his being in Texas.