It's been a big weekend for God-haunted movie openings, with the Coen brothers' "A Serious Man" duking it out with British comedian Ricky Gervais's "The Invention of Lying." Gervais helped write and direct "Lying," which has received mixed reviews. Critics have also split on the film's effort to generate laughs from portraying God's existence as one of the biggest lies of all. For some audience members, such atheism-themed humor will produce more discomfort than David Letterman's Thursday night confession about his "creepy" behavior with his show's female employees.
Connie Ogle of The Miami Herald said "The Invention of Lying" "may well be the first mainstream atheism-based feature film," while Manohla Dargis of The New York Times dismissed the film's atheistic subtext as "gentle pokes at religious faith at its most literal."
Kyle Smith, a reviewer for the New York Post, saw things differently:
"The movie is 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."
Entertainment Weekly magazine ran Adam Markovitz's article on the controversy in its Oct. 2 issue:
What you don't know--thanks to a carefully crafted marketing campaign--is the movie's actual subject: religion...."It's not atheist propaganda," says (Gervais), who is, indeed, an atheist.
Reviews of the film (some of which can be found at www.rottentomatoes.com) have taken varying approaches to the film's delicate balancing act.
Gary Thompson of the Philadelphia Daily News contrasts the film to an earlier comedy that was friendlier to faith:
"The Invention of Lying" turns out to be "Bruce Almighty" for atheists. Where the latter was a comedy about a man who taps into God's power, the former is a comedy about a man who acquires power by inventing God.
Joe Williams of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch focused on the difficulties the film presents for many viewers:
Ruefully smiling behind his trademark protective shell, Gervais makes it hard to sift through the mixed messages. On the one hand, he's dared to direct a mainstream movie asserting that God is a convenient fiction. In the other hand he's clutching a valentine, hoping we'll forgive and forget.
Roger Ebert, like other critics, applauded the film's audacious effort to mix mirth and metaphysics. But he was one of the few to address its potential impact on audiences:
What we have here, in microcosm, is the paradox of a benevolent god creating a world of evil....I saw the movie with a large audience, which laughed a lot. I have no idea what they thought of its implications. "The Invention of Lying" isn't strident, ideological or argumentative...