After a couple of weeks of unsubstantiated rumors, it has been confirmed that the forthcoming film The Invention of Lying is indeed intended to satirize religion and religious believers.
New York Post critic Kyle Smith has seen the film and describes it as "a full-on attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular. It might be the most blatantly, one-sidedly atheist movie ever released by a major studio, in this case Warner Bros."
Although the commercials and theatrical trailers have presented the film as a cute comedy and made no allusion at all to any religious angle, much less a concerted case for atheism, Smith reports that the basis of the film is its attack on religion:
Gervais delights in what a faith-based society would call blasphemy, setting up an imaginary world in which no one ever lies. Except his character, who spreads what Gervais obviously sees as the biggest lie of all: Belief in God.
Smith’s description of the film makes it clear that the protagonist’s behavior represents a simpleminded atheist’s idea of the meaning of religion:
There is a “Man in the Sky,” he says, who is looking down at all of us and is responsible for everything that happens. Yes, he explains to one woman, he gave your mom cancer — but he’s also responsible for curing her. The people aren’t happy that “The Man in the Sky” is behind all human suffering. “F— The Man in the Sky!” cries one citizen, and the crowd begins to get angry. A magazine cover exclaims, “Man in the Sky Kills 40,000 in Tsunami!” But Gervais’s character insists that whatever damage the Man in the Sky causes, he eventually makes up for it all in the end by providing a beautiful mansion for everyone after they die, at least for those who don’t commit three or more immoral acts, and by making it so that everyone can reunite with their loved ones in the next life.
Smith concludes by stating that the film is mean-spirited overall and that audiences are unlikely to be pleased by Gervais’s attack on their basic beliefs while critics will enjoy this latest attempt to epater la bourgeousie:
Gervais is an atheist, which is fine, but his mean-spiritedness (even before the atheism theme enters the movie, it’s sour and misanthropic) and the film’s reduction of all religion to an episode of crowd hysteria are not going to be warmly received. Except maybe by critics.
In a comment on Smith’s article, a reader quotes from Gervais’s long, poorly written, and unapologetic but highly defensive and spectacularly cliched response to the building controversy on the film, published on the actor’s blog. Here’s Gervais’s post, with some responses of my own in brackets:
A couple more web sites have picked up on a few Christians (not all – most Christians have a sense of humour) saying that The Invention of Lying is blasphemous.
Here are my seven deadly sins of jumping to conclusions:
1. No one has seen the film. [False–SK]
2. Even if the film suggests there is no God, it is a fictional world.[a truly pathetic evasion.] One of my favourite films is ‘It’s a wonderful life’ and at no time am I offended by the suggestion in this wonderful work of fiction that there is a God.[Nice but irrelevant.]
3. If the film was not set in a fictional world and suggested there is no God then that’s fine too, as it is anyone’s right not to believe in God.[and it’s other people’s right to criticize a filmmaker for what he chooses to put in his movies.]
4. By suggesting there is no God you are not singling out Christianity.[but you certainly are including Christianity, so Christians have a right to answer back.]
5. Not believing in God cannot be blasphemous. Blasphemy is acknowledging a God to insult or offend etc.[Gervais’s atheism is not the complaint: characterizing God as Gervais allegedly does in the film is what people are concerned about, and it is definitely a case of blasphemy if the film is at all as described.]
6. Even if it was blasphemous, which it isn’[false]t, then that’s OK too due to a little god I like called "freedom of speech."[freedom of speech is not at issue. Blasphemy and contempt for other people’s beliefs are the topic of discussion.] That said, I am not trying to offend anyone[but offending them all the same, while hiding behind a fig leaf of good intentions.]. That would be a waste of such a privilege.
7. I am an atheist, but this is not atheist propaganda[Well, if it looks like atheist propaganda, and it walks like atheist propaganda, and it quacks like atheist propaganda…]. When creating an imaginary world you have to make certain decisions. We decided also that there would be no surrealist art, no racism, no flattery, no fiction, no metaphor, and no supernatural. However, we decided that apart from that one "lying gene", humans evolved with everything else as we have it today. Joy, hope, ambition, ruthlessness, greed, lust, anger, jealousy, sadness, and grief. It’s just a film[another pathetic evasion]. If any of the themes in it offend you or bore you, or just don’t make sense to you, you should put everything right when you make a film[How revoltingly arrogant and elitist. As if the only way to answer a person were to go back in time, pursue the same career they have taken up, and answer them in the same form. This is a truly astonishing insult to his potential audience.].
I really hope everyone enjoys the film[Even though he lives in the relatively unchurched UK, it’s quite amazing that he can be so grotesquely ignorant as to have imagined that the great majority of his potential American audience would not find this movie idea offensive.].’ and keeps an open mind[regarding whether they like blasphemy? That is even more arrogant than the last sentence of his deadly sin number seven.]. I believe in peace on Earth, and good will to all men.[Not all harmful things are done with ill will. Gross negligence can be just as destructive, and merits an equal response.] I do as I would be done by, and believe that forgiveness is one of the greatest virtues[but of course he claims to have nothing in his film that requires forgiving.]. I just don’t believe I will be rewarded for it in heaven[It seems likely he’s right about that much.]. That’s all.
It will be interesting to see whether audiences take to the film as more people find out what The Invention of Lying is all about. Telling your audience that their most profound beliefs are stupid and wrong seems a fine plan for eliciting positive reviews from elitist movie critics but a very bad way to lure people into movie theaters.
–S. T. Karnick