I braved a torrential Texas downpour on Saturday night to see this movie. Fortunately, it was well worth the drenched clothing and sodden sneakers.
This movie is brilliant in its dual criticism of both blind faith and strict realism. While the satire of religious belief is rather blatant, the film employs a subtler condemnation toward strict adherence to a singular reality. Prior to Mark telling the first lie, the world was completely transparent; there was no unknown. There existed no human emotion that could be divorced from the physical body; couples united strictly on the basis of genetic compatibility with a complete disregard for any emotional connection. I concede that love may indeed be a clever illusion of physical sensations in response to complex neurological reactions. But while love may exist entirely in the physical realm and not in an undefined supernatural dimension, it is nonetheless functionally intangible and an inarticulate concept at best. Love, for all intensive purposes, remains part of the vast unknown landscape of the human consciousness.
But how exactly did the invention of lying allow for the existence of love? What changed and caused Anna to choose a mate she connected with emotionally over a genetically superior mate? I think that the possibility of falsity allowed for the acknowledgment of the unknown facet of human existence. In applying pure rational realism, Brad was the preferable mate for Anna: wealthier, smarter, and physically superior. Yet all of these measurable, tangible qualities were completely eclipsed in importance by the intangible emotions between Anna and Mark. Without the possibility of falsity in the world, there was no challenge to the reign of rational realism. By introducing unreality through the process of lying, Mark shattered his world's exclusive realism. Suddenly, there was duplicity of possible realities and a corresponding presence of the unknown. In choosing to marry Mark for love over genetically preferable procreation with Brad, Anna is acknowledging an intangible unknown beyond the physically defined reality.
However, the critique of strict realism is subordinate to the film's primary satire of Christian dogma. While acknowledgment of the unknown is imperative for human fulfillment, the gross error of attempting to answer the unknown becomes evident when Mark introduces his pizza box commandments. These fantastical fabrications of the afterlife and a moral code, obvious parodies of biblical sentiments, only lead to further questions. In attempting to answer the unknown, Mark is inevitably caught in a riptide of logical fallacies as he drifts further and further from the shore of reality and into the perilous sea of faith. While rational realism's dismissive exclusion of the unknown is misguided, Mark's attempt to answer the unknown with preposterous yarns of invisible deities, celestial mansions, and infinite ice cream is completely flawed as well.
Mark's endeavors in answering the unknown began innocently enough; attempting to ease his dying mother's fear of impending oblivion, Mark invented a wondrous afterlife for her to anticipate. But he need not have gone that far. Instead of creating a fantasy world as an answer to the unknown, Mark needed only to assure his mother that there is nothing to fear from the unknown. Perhaps it is oblivion, perhaps it is not. Either way, it is a waste to agonize over what we do not--and cannot--know for certain. Mark's dying mother did not need a vision of heaven to be comforted; she just needed an assurance that the unknown is harmless.
Perhaps an inability to face the unknown is that the root cause of mankind's relentless addiction to religion. Is it really that terrifying to accept that there are no answers? Are uncertainty so distressing and delusion so comforting that we must tenuously grasp to illogical fantasy?
I would like to think that we can exist in the presence of the unknown without inevitably lapsing into speculative conclusions.
P.S. A post on Ricky Gervais would not be complete without this clip.