The Truth is a lonely hunter

big hair daysI recently saw a movie, “The Invention of Lying,” and it left me thinking that perhaps it was as much a movie about Autism/Asperger’s as it was about lying.

While the film is quite clever and funny, the central idea is built on the “what if” of a world where no one ever lies.  This is funny to the extent that people just say when they’ve been masturbating and pooping rather than “lying” about it, but the strange thing about the world the film creates is that it’s not really a world of honesty so much as a world lacking in all empathy and authentic social relatedness—a world that is almost exactly like the more disappointing aspects of world we already have, only the “thought bubbles” that rule behavior and social position are spoken as opposed to merely tacitly acknowledged and then acted upon.  This is very funny, but also a telling mirror of us masked and alienated humans.

It struck me that one could just as well have depicted a world in which radical authenticity lead to compassion, trust and better relationships because the “truth” might be that everyone is sometimes nice and sometimes not, but with everyone knowing truly where they stood, real friendships and love relationships would be so much deeper and more real; betrayal and guile being absent, trust would quite possibly abound. 

Instead, “The Invention of Lying” creates a world a bit like a special needs school I used to work at where Asperger’s kids had no filters and very limited understanding about the feelings of others.  The film also reminded me of certain kids with Tourette Syndrome who would blurt out insults and curse words at teachers, and in some cases compulsively touch others—beyond “honest,” they were like walking Ids.

The central character in the film figures out how to lie, and thus wields power over the gullible others, adding to the absurd and strangely narcissistic tone of the story where no one really knows themselves, as they have no inner lives, no imagination and no fantasies (as these would all be “lies” in a sense).  On the one hand, it struck me as disappointing that he doggedly pursues the pretty Jennifer Garner despite the fact that there is nothing remotely interesting or soulful about her.  In a sense, the film needed to run into “Groundhog’s Day” where Bill Murray gets to be the incorrigible jerk for laughs, and then have an epiphany of kindness.  “The Invention of Lying” disappoints even as it amuses, because of the hollowness and self-absorption of the one guy who knows better.  The Trickster is a liar who tells the truth, but this film ends up being subversive in lying about the truth it pretends to tell… or else it’s just so Asperger’s that it doesn’t fully realize its own social impairment. 

On the other hand, as I’ve written before, perhaps the Autistic realm of the spectrum is actually tuned into something higher than most of us so-called normal folks are able to appreciate and a movie like this is humming at a level I’m just too normal to fully see (not a position I’m used to being in).

In a scene that put me in my social place, we cut to two people sitting on a park bench, obviously in love.  The Jennifer Garner character can’t see that they are in love—she only sees two nerds in hats.  The thing that caught my attention, however, was that all I saw was two people who looked nice and sort of cool to me—and only after her snarky comment did I realize that the people who I thought were emblems of coolness, were cast as total nerds.  Maybe its just a matter of being blocked from the “cool” of normal life, so I ended up redefining cool as a sort of East-Village nerd-cool where folks like David Byrne and Jim Jarmush set the gold standard of succeeding while being more or less one’s self.

Perhaps in the end “The Invention of Lying” implicitly challenges us to deepen our empathy for both unconventionally attractive people (like Ricky Gervais as the portly “loser” who becomes a “winner” by lying, but still can’t change is genes) as well as shallow “cool” people like the Rob Lowe and Jennifer Garner characters.  It did strike me that she probably wouldn’t have wanted to play the lead if he ended up with someone else who we all liked better, particularly someone not so pretty (but in the end we’d be more gullible than the folks in the film if we expected to find a truth any deeper than the savvy manipulation of a Hollywood movie)

My point is to jump from ideas of lying and truth telling to challenge us to re-think how “truth” is really just subjective judgment and not, in fact, likely to reflect any ultimate truth.  Instead we might tame our ever judging and categorizing mind in favor of empathy and compassion—thinking and feeling what it must be like to be in our children’s shoes, and in the skin and minds of the grown-ups we tend to think of as “other” (be it idealized stars or devalued “losers”) as they might be good windows into some fuller multiplicity of our own psyches.  This is the foundation of true relating, and it can improve our parenting and help us come into better harmony with the world.

BTW, if anyone has an Asperger’s teen (this movie would not be suitable for kids under thirteen), or a kid who struggles with reading social cues, making eye contact, etc. I’d be most curious to hear how they respond to this film… as well as what anyone thinks about it.

For today, my vote is to strive for compassion in our “truth-telling,” as well as going still deeper toward some sort of “truth seeing”—looking for the sacred spark underneath the limited and limiting masks and roles that can never truly define any of us—softening our hearts and our gazes in honor of all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce


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