A qualifying statement: The Invention of Lying is rubbish. It’s a truly terrible, slipshod movie. Do you remember The Invention of Lying? It was a sort of comedy vehicle for Ricky Gervais. Here in the UK, Gervais is known for several things. He is known for writing The Office, a comedy lauded by Nathan Barley-type twats who considered it the bleeding edge of cool because it was filmed in a documentary style and didn’t actually have any jokes. It featured bizarre and stupid people acting like idiots. Since I’d already seen This Is Spinal Tap, I didn’t really think it was the dog’s bollocks. Rather, I thought it was mildly diverting, a sort of “ha hum” moment in between genuinely funny comedies. It did, however, launch the career of Martin Freeman, and that’s no bad thing. Ricky Gervais went to Hollywood to appear in cinematic classics like Night At The Museum, eventually returning to dear old Blighty to make a comedy about a dwarf that didn’t poke fun at dwarves, and a comedy about a disabled guy that didn’t poke fun at disabled people. So far so good.
I rather like Ricky Gervais for several reasons. I can forgive his many faults for two alone. One – he’s the man who brought Karl Pilkington to prominence, and Karl Pilkington is a comedy genius, albeit a sort of idiot savante one, and two – because Ricky Gervais conceived the greatest movie idea there has ever been.
The Invention of Lying is about a world where people don’t have the capacity to lie until Ricky Gervais’ character, Mark Bellison, unwittingly tells the first lie. The rest of the movie is a semi-comedic romance about his exploits and his attempts to win the love of Jennifer Garner’s character.
In case you’re wondering who Jennifer Garner is, she’s a woman who looks like somebody made Sarah Jessica Parker out of bits of Katie Holmes. I have no other way of describing her.
DO YOU SEE?
The Invention of Lying is a fairly terrible, heart-warming rom-com about a man who invents God to make people happy and tells lies in order to get rich and laid. It’s funny if you like ponderous jokes about Ricky Gervais having a “snub nose” and a sort of half-hearted critique of religion.
The end of the story? No. Because The Invention of Lying is The Greatest Film Ever Made. How can it be, I hear you cry? You just said it was rubbish. Shut up, I reply, I’ll tell you.
It’s the greatest film ever made by dint of its central premise. In fact, you can try it out for yourself. Imagine you’re writing this movie. You have the premise: the world with no lies. You have the pitch: a man invents lying. You have the theme: given ultimate power, what will one flawed man do with it?
And in your head you’ve already written the greatest movie ever. This pitch is the single greatest idea in the history of film. I’ll tell you where I would have this movie go, if I was writing it. Mark Bellison invents lying. In six months, he is supreme ruler of the earth, presiding over an apocalyptic wasteland from a palace made of pure gold, surrounded by his half-naked retinue of slave girls.
Jordan Carver’s in there somewhere.
You see, The Invention of Lying should be a retelling of The Ring of Gyges, the story that inspired Wagner is J.R.R. Tolkien. In the story, Gyges discovers a ring that makes him invisible at will. Given this immense power, he kills the king, marries the queen, and lives happily ever after. It is related in Plato’s Republic, after which Glaucon makes the point:
“Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men.Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust.For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right. If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.”
The point of The Ring of Gyges is that power corrupts, and immense power corrupts immensely. Given the power to tell lies in a world of truth, would you live in the world of a romantic comedy? Of course not. I know I wouldn’t. If I could convince people of anything, I’d be living in my immense gold palace with my harem of slave girls, ruler of all I surveyed, as the oppressed proles toiled to reshape Mount Everest into a giant replica of my face.
Also Jordan Carver would be in there somewhere.
So I think you’re beginning to see my point: The Invention of Lying is a dull film built around the greatest premise anybody’s ever thought of. The first time I read it I thought my heart had stopped, because it seemed that a better movie idea couldn’t be invented. The ability to modify the truth when no-one else can is as good an ability as being able to travel through time, fly through the air, or leap over tall buildings in a single bound. Given that power, can we really expect anybody to act morally?
Early in the film Ricky Gervais convinces a beautiful woman to have sex with him or the world will end, only to bail on the idea. That’s when I lost patience with this dumb fucking film. This film should be about the corruption of the human spirit. Mark Bellison should start off as a good, honest guy, who is turned into some kind of The-Emperor-From-Star-Wars evil wreck by his ability. That’s where this film should have headed. In essence, the writers wasted the premise. They made Love Actually when they could have made The Last King of Scotland.
And, in a weird way, I was kind of relieved. I had imagined Ricky Gervais had made the greatest movie ever, and it turned to to not be the case. The Greatest Movie Ever Made is still to be made.
The quest continues.