“People need good lies. There are too many bad ones” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

One of the broad aims of this blog is to tell the truth as I see it  about art, music, politics, religion, whatever.

It seems only right ,therefore, to make a post reflecting on two recent movies on the subject of lying – The Invention of Lying and World’s Greatest Dad.

Why do we lie?  Lying is the fear that we might be crushed by the truth or, on a more mundane level, it may simply be an act of diplomacy, kindness or protection. Only if this reaches the point of being a malicious deception is it necessarily a negative thing. Both these movies actually show that a lie, when it is big enough, can bring comfort and that the truth, when it is revealed, can cause disillusionment and anger.

The stars of the two movies are Ricky Gervais and Robin Williams respectively; both are better comics than they are actors. The limited extent of their acting abilities is, in each film, displayed in scenes where loved ones die. Gervais’s tears as his mother expires and Williams’s mute displays of anguish when he discovers his son’s lifeless body are both pretty unconvincing.

It’s a measure of Gervais’s  current popularity that ‘The Invention of Lying’ got to be made in the first place. Not that it’s an awful movie, it’s simply that there must be countless ideas like this floating around that never get beyond the drawing board. Having wowed British audiences with The Office and Extras he has managed the rare feat of successfully bridging the cultural divide between the UK and America.

His movie, which he co-wrote and directed with Matthew Robinson, is essentially a modern-day fable based on a world where no one is capable of telling lies. This could conceivably be liberating – no fraud or deception, no two-faced politicians, complete freedom of information etc.

What we see, though, is that social niceties have been replaced by rude put-downs, and that people speak their mind like spiteful children, regardless of the consequences. It makes for some comic moments , of course,  like when  Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner) says  she’s going upstairs to masturbate before a date or Gervais’s secretary telling him that she’s always hated working for him and cheerfully expresses the hope that she never sees him gain.

The movie only gets into its stride, however, when it shifts from social comedy  into a religious satire. This happens when Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) inadvertently invents God (The man in the sky) to comfort his dying mother . He tells her that when the mortal coil is cut she will not face nothingness but will be rewarded with her own mansion and get to meet all her loved ones again. His comments are overheard by the medical staff and later communicated to the masses making him a global phenomenon.

In the best scene he writes down the gospel according to the man in the sky on two empty pizza boxes (in lieu of stone tablets) and becomes a latter-day Moses:

Nothing after this makes much sense or is as funny. He is able to continue his life relatively unmolested when in reality he would be mobbed by the media and public. The movie shifts focus to a will he/ won’t he get the girl and, this being popular entertainment, the denouement is obvious.

In World’s Greatest Dad, the big lie that single father Lance Clayton (Williams) tells is that his son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) committed suicide when in reality he died performing autoerotic asphyxiation (i.e. he strangled himself while wanking).

The basic motive for this cover up is to present his son in a more positive light, even though he knows he is a “douchebag“. Lance writes a lengthy suicide note which presents Kyle as a deep, emotional soul, misunderstood by his peers. Only Kyle’s best friend has mourned his death but when the local newspaper publishes the suicide note, Kyle’s (and Lance’s) standing increases dramatically.  Lance extends the lie by writing a  journal purportedly written by Kyle.

The film then becomes a dark satire on the way celebrity is manufactured by the media and at how death can elevate an individual’s reputation. All the truths about Kyle’s obnoxious behaviour are forgotten as schoolmates and teachers swallow the fictionalised version of his life.

The movie, written and directed by Bobcat” Goldthwait is a genuinely black comedy but Robin Williams’s restrained performance means it lacks any real spark to make it as subversive as it tries to be. The ending, too, strikes me as a bit of a cop-out.  The motives behind Lance’s increasingly elaborate deception become confused, is he promoting his son’s book to live out his fantasy of becoming a successful author or is he just caught up in the roller coaster effects of  caused by his elaborate fabrication of the truth?

The best scenes of the movie  are ones which show the patience and forbearance needed to be a good parent,. This can be seen in  this short scene in which Kyle mocks his Dad’s music taste and declares that Heavy Metal is the faggiest of all the fag music:

Both these movies show that when a lie is big enough it can have a major impact on people’s lives. The effects are by no means negative either.  There is comfort in believing there is a man in the sky watching over us, or that a sensitive child has made the ultimate gesture and become a heroic figure.

Ultimately, both movies show that the truth can be stark or painful and that lying may be the coward’s way out but the fake reassurance it provides cannot be denied.