Ricky Gervais weaves together Gulliver’s Travels and the Midas myth to create a funny and provocative anti-religion story, yet as usual one which attacks merely the straw man of Sunday-School religion: no worries for the modern C of E… ;-).
His thought-experiment is a world where, as with Gulliver’s Houyhnhnms, there is no concept of lying (Swift’s horsey paragons periphrastically accuse Gulliver’s of “saying the thing which is not”). Much straight-talking-based comedy ensues: (while waiting for his date) “I thought you were masturbating” / (when she appears) “I was masturbating”; (waiter bringing a cocktail) “I had a little sip”; (everyone) “You’re a fat loser” / “I find you repulsive” / “You’re out of my league” etc. And then, as expected, Gervais’ character (Mark Ellison) realises the power of lying, as everyone believes him: the bank cashier gives him more money than is in his balance, as she believes him over the computer system; a belle in the street instantly agrees to have sex with him, on being told that the world will end if they don’t.
As in Click, we move into a Midas world, which we expect to unravel. It’s here though that Gervais’ rabid atheism takes over, as, faced with his moribund mother’s terror of oblivion, he reassures her that death is eternal bliss, meeting up with deceased loved ones, a mansion each, free ice cream, etc. She dies happy, but Ellison’s words have changed the lives of the nearby medics, and subsequently the whole world: Truman-show shots of worldly diverse families hanging on Ellison’s every word.
A very clever scene is Ellison’s speech to a crowd outside his home, and billions on satellite, explaining ‘what he knows’ about the afterlife. Here we get a fully-fledged Sunday-School theology of ‘Man in the Sky’, and heaven and hell, with all its contradictions. These revolve particularly around the ‘fact’ that the Man in the Sky ‘controls everything’, which with heckles from the crowd resolves into his causing and then curing a cancer, and upsetting a fisherman’s boat and then saving his life. Not a very sympathetic view, but it highlights really well the contradictions in the naïve view of Big Man Who Controls Everything And Is Nice. It’s a great moment when a member of the crowd bursts out “Well I think we should fuck the Man in the Sky” (or wtte).
After this we fall into Midas-touch-going-wrong mode: depressed Ellison soliloquising at mother’s grave about how he’s the only one who knows she’s just in the ground, and the not-very-important love interest (which I’ve ignored so far, and henceforth). What I’m getting at is that the film is structurally weak and therefore artistically unintelligent, but clever with ideas and, pace strawmanism, a good knock at some forms of woolly religious thinking.
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