It's a pretty unique idea.
Imagine a world in which nobody tells a lie.
In fact, nobody says, or does, or thinks anything that isn't 100% true.
It's a pretty brutal world, to be sure. When you approach a girl, she doesn't blow you off by pretending she has a boyfriend. She just comes straight out and says it: "I don't find you attractive."
But it's also an oddly compelling world; one in which you can take absolutely everybody at their word.
That's the alternative reality that plays host to The Invention of Lying, a so-called romantic comedy written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson and recently released on DVD.
Set in a world in which nothing - absolutely nothing - is imagined or made up, it follows hapless Mark Bellison; a British immigrant to Massachusetts who writes the closest thing this alternative reality has to motion pictures; big screen narratives about periods of history, read by celebrities.
In a world that hasn't invented political correctness, or even the platitude of a well-intentioned white lie, life isn't easy for Mark. He's short, fat and unattractive. He's terrible at his job and has been saddled with the least exciting periods of history to translate to the big screen. His only date in recent history, with improbably statuesque Jennifer Garner, ended almost as soon as it began when she blurted out: "I don't find you attractive. We won't be having sex."
But then something miraculous happens to Mark.
For the first time in human history, he manages to look somebody in the eye and tell them a lie. It's almost unintentional at first; just an audacious gamble at the bank, in which he tells the teller that he has $800 in his account instead of the $300 he really has. The computer tells a different story; but in a world in which nobody tells anything but the truth, the teller assumes the computer has made a mistake and hands Mark his $800.
And that's the Invention of Lying.
It's an incredibly clever concept for a film; challenging all our preconceptions about honesty, the truth, imagination and lying. While we're taught from a young age that lying is wrong, The Invention of Lying illustrates just how rampant mistruth is in our society; and how that's not always a bad thing.
The most heartwarming moment of the film is when Mark confronts his dying mother, who is moments away from passing away, but is breathlessly terrified at the nothingness that death presents. So Mark, having recently mastered the power of mistruth, lies to her.
Overheard telling his Mum about a 'better place' where she'll be reunited with friends and family, the most incredible thing happens: Mark unintentionally becomes the prophet for a new religion; giving millions of people who'd previously existed with nothing but bleak reality to deal with the wonderful, fanciful comfort of belief.
As far as allegories go, The Invention of Lying is a fairly blunt one. Mark Bellison stands out in front of a crowd of millions with his 'laws' written on two pizza boxes; and invents religion off the top of his head.
There's a man in the sky. He controls everything. He's responsible for everything good that happens to you, and everything bad. If you're good, you go to a better place when you die. If you're bad, you don't.
In a few short seconds, the script reduces the whole concept of religion down to what it basically is; a neat little platitude to make us all feel better about the bleak, cold, remorseless reality that is existence. And while the film shows that this bitter tonic of false hope makes the world a better place, it also reveals just how terrible the character of Mark Bellison feels for making people feel 'better' by telling them something that isn't true.
Ultimately, The Invention of Lying is a thought-provoking film that doesn't quite pull off what it intends to. As far as romantic comedies go, it's not all that romantic and it's not all that funny. As an art-house piece, it's ultimately a little unsatisfying because it never fully follows through on the statement it's trying to make.
But I enjoyed it; immensely. Because if this movie managed to achieve anything, it was to demonstrate how trite the whole concept of religion is; and how time honored beliefs that have been followed by the devout for thousands of years are ultimately no more convincing than the spiritual platitudes Ricky Gervais' character pulls, to use an American expression, straight out of his ass.
The Invention of Lying is available now for $19.99 from Amazon.com.