Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Necessity of Lies

In the Ricky Gervais film, The Invention of Lying, nobody in the whole world tells lies. They don't even know what a lie is. There is no word for truth because truth can only be defined in relation to its opposite. There is no trickery, no deception, no falsehood, no pretense and no fiction.

Imagine such a world where advertising is factual and straightforward. The slogan for Pepsi is: when they don't have Coke. Visualize a world where there are no movies other than historical documentaries made by the Lecture film company, and read to camera by serious academic looking types. Think of a world where people are offended, wounded and humiliated on a daily basis because of the dearth of sensitivity and tact. Put yourself in a world where everybody says exactly what's on their mind whenever they want to. Where truth is the only option. Anybody want to live there?

Truth is upheld by most people, in most societies, as a quality of infinite worth. It is to be cherished and treasured, honored and protected. However, there is nowhere on earth like the fictional town in The Invention of Lying where there is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The people there are uncreative, motivated by pure selfishness, and are without hope because there is only absolute truth.

When Ricky Gervais' character lies to his mother about the after life in order to comfort her on her death bed, she dies in peace. Her fear disappears and she fades blissfully into eternity. When news of this lie spreads from the hospital to the whole town and then to the whole world, it's a mind blowing revelation which shows us how desperate people are for hope. They latch on to the lie about a wonderful afterlife and hold it tight because it's a beautiful lie. It gives them hope and makes them happy.

The Invention of Lying is a very funny film, but it is also very profound. A world without lies would be horrible but a world without truth would be equally bad. A can of worms has now been opened. When is a lie okay or even necessary? When is it vital? And if truth is absolute then how can we draw lines of relativity in the sand, and allow everyone to decide for themselves when truth should be used? How can we safely allow the selective application of such a powerful instrument? Is truth a healing balm or a hammer?

Does anyone see a problem here?

1 comment:

  1. I disagree that a world without lies would be a horrible place. I understand it and I see what Ricky Gervais is doing (and it's a good isea for a movie), but the world without lies presented in the movie is replete with lies. How could it not be? We can't concieve of a world without lies in our present existence.

    That slogan for pepsi. Is that supposed to be the truth? I don't think so. It's an ironic slight on pepsi which makes reference to the 'truth' about Coca-cola, which is itself based on advertising and so (according to the logic of the film) is a lie. Truth is about more than people just saying what is factually correct. That's why the notion that you would only have documentaries is nonsense. How much truth do we find in films and novels. Lots.

    Anyway - just some thoughts.