I don’t know how many of us like going to the movies, but my wife and I enjoy getting away and enjoying the occasional cinematic spectacle. We recently saw a new comedy called, The Invention of Lying. Perhaps you’ve seen the previews on TV. In any case, I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts on what turned out to be a rather thought provoking experience.
Let’s start with the controversial writer and director, Ricky Gervais, the creator of the original version of The Office which aired on the BBC. Ricky Gervais is the funniest atheist that I know of. That’s why it comes as no surprise that The Invention of Lying, co-written and directed by Gervais, would have a uniquely humorous premise: “A world where everyone tells the absolute truth no matter what.” And, as a matter of fact, the first 45 minutes, though occasionally inappropriate, are pretty hysterical. The best moments in this universe are the ones that wouldn’t immediately come to mind, like, “what would commercials be like?”
Here’s a great example Gervais offers his audience,
Then, there’s the billboards for Pepsi, “Pepsi. For when they don’t have Coke.”
Gervais plays Mark Bellison, a self described, “Chubby loser” whose bad luck turns for the better when he becomes the only man in the entire world who can lie. What begins with the tone of a modern, comedic fable becomes an explicit commentary on religion and atheism. It would be easy to say that this film is an atheistic playground. In fact I’ve already heard people refer to it as an “Atheist Manifesto.” However, I don’t think Gervais does any ultimate credit to the atheistic camp.
The shift in tone occurs when Bellison’s mother is lying on her deathbed, confiding her fears about death to her son, as if an eternal dark nothingness is a foregone conclusion. Bellison, being the only man capable of lying, tells her that when she dies there won’t be nothingness. In fact she’ll regain her youth, go to a mansion in the sky and enjoy it forever with all her best friends. The only thing sadder at this point in the movie than realizing that you’re watching a film more atheistic than Happy Feet is that Bellison’s description of Heaven is not remotely Christian and yet I fear that many Christians might feel personally assaulted. We shouldn’t feel personally assaulted. We should feel sympathy for Gervais who has, apparently, never had a really loving, well informed Christian explain what Heaven is really all about.
From here, word gets out that Mark Bellison knows exactly what happens after you die and, in order to appease the curiosity of the woman he loves, tells the world that there’s a man in the sky who controls everything, good and bad, and if you do bad things you won’t get to live with him in the sky when you die. And there it is, the message of the film: “Religion would not exist in a world where people could only tell the truth.“
What I’m not sure Gervais realizes is that the world of “truth” he’s created is even more depressing than the real one. In fact, it’s a world that seems to be desperate for meaning outside of it’s own existence and no one should see this more clearly than Bellison, who can’t be with the woman he loves because he’s not a good genetic match. Even Gervais seems to see the absurdity in the logical implications that atheism has for personal, romantic relationships…otherwise people in that world wouldn’t recite wedding vows like these,
When the atheistic writer of the film seems to see the foolishness in such bio-centric, emotionally detached relationships he winds up undermining his entire premise, doesn’t he? After all, if you’re going to go ahead and admit that love is more than biology, then you’ve pretty much filmed your way into a philosophical, theological corner and succeeded in doing nothing more than make this theist laugh at a few jokes, not to mention the folly of atheism.