Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Invention of Lying


How’s this for a Coca-Cola commercial: “It’s mostly brown water and sugar, but it doesn’t taste so bad. Of course, it tends to make your children obese.” Or on the side of a bus, for Pepsi: FOR WHEN THEY’RE OUT OF COKE. This is advertising in the world created by Ricky Gervais, where no one can lie, where they don’t even understand the concept of lying, it’s as alien to them as quantum mechanics to a monkey. Honesty can be painful. Everybody tells everybody else exactly what they think of them. Our hero, Mark, is short, fleshy, and has a snub nose, and no one ever fails to mention this when they talk to him, especially girls. He is a screenwriter … but since fiction is lying, all movies consist of experts sitting in chairs reading history. Sort of a PBS hell. Mark has been assigned the 14th Century, whose most important feature was the Black Plague. Try making a fun movie out of writing about that. He is fired, he’s about to be evicted, he only has $300 and he needs $800. He goes to the bank, and has an Einstein moment. What if he claims he had $800? Well, since the teller has never even encountered the concept of untruth—they have no word for it, which makes it hard for Mark to explain what he does—she assumes the bank made a mistake. He gets the money, and he’s off to the races.
Soon he’s lying about everything, and doing pretty well in life. Except that he’s basically a nice guy and can’t bring himself to lie to the woman he loves, who won’t marry him because she needs a guy with better genes, which, of course, she tells him. But for everything else, all bets are off. The best scene is when he tells his dying mother that you don’t just vanish when you die, you go up into the sky where everyone is happy all the time. She dies happy, but the doctors and nurses hear him, and of course they believe it instantly and want to know more. So Mark basically invents religion in 24 hours, complete with sin, judgement, and the Man in the Sky.
Many, many complications, and they all worked for me. Take casinos. As you enter, they tell you that your odds of winning are small, and the House always wins in the end. Would anyone gamble? Yes! Because anyone with any sense at all knows that going into a casino, we just like to think we’re the exception.
No movie could include all the possibilities of such a premise, but if they ever make a sequel I’ve thought of a few. How would lawyers operate? Could they even have lawyers? Used car salesmen would be a pretty depressing job, telling the truth about all the lemons you’re trying to sell. Then there are politicians, of course …
There was one missed opportunity that I wish I could have contributed to. Mark wants his job back, so he makes up this absolutely insane screenplay involving space aliens and the planet Mars and every wild—but interesting!—thing he can think of, and calls it “The Black Plague.” He says it all happened in the 14th Century, and the aliens wiped our memory of it, so the only record is the (forged) document he has found. Everyone believes him, and the movie is a smash. What they should have done was summarize the incredibly wacked-out texts of Scientology for his wild story, with the body thetans blown up by atomic bombs, the Galactic Emperor Xenu, and spaceships that look like DC-8s with no engines. No kidding, Scientologists really believe that crap. I wonder if Scientologists came through a time warp from this Ricky Gervais world where everyone believes everything they are told?