The Awful Truth

If you watched the Oscars recently, you might recall the moment comedian Jim Carrey came to the podium wearing a huge grin. Why was he smiling? His latest movie, Liar, Liar-the title taken from the old school-yard jingle "Liar, Liar, pants on fire"-had just broken all box office records for Easter weekend. The film’s popularity just might have to do with its amusing take on a moral theme: Liar, Liar gets to the heart of why integrity is necessary for lasting happiness. Liar, Liar is about a divorced lawyer named Fletcher Reede, played by Jim Carrey. Reede has gotten within spitting range of a partnership at his law firm through his ability to fib with finesse. But it’s not just in court that Reede lies. He lies to his colleagues, he lies to strangers, he even lies to his five-year-old son, Max. But when Reede breaks a promise to attend his son’s birthday party, Max makes a devastating wish. Before blowing out the candles on his cake, Max whispers: "I wish that for one day my Dad couldn’t tell a lie." The wish turns into a spell that his father can’t break—no matter how hard he tries. When a colleague asks him how he likes her dress, Reede tells her it looks great—because it takes attention away from her horrible hairstyle. When his ex-wife asks him where he was the night before, he’s forced to admit he was sleeping with another woman. In divorce court, Reede finds himself exposing his client’s adulterous affair. All this truth-telling has dire consequences: Reede’s boss fires him; a judge has him arrested for contempt of court; Reede’s ex-wife decides to remarry and move their son 3,000 miles away. In the end, Reede is literally forced to admit to himself that he’s a bad father—in fact, a bad human being. He realizes that success means little when it’s purchased at the price of integrity. In a wild finale, Reede goes all out to convince his son that he loves him—and that he’ll never lie again. Now, I don’t recommend the film. It contains the kind of comic vulgarity Jim Carrey is famous for. But underneath the slapstick is a potent moral question: How do we define success? Prior to being put under a supernatural spell, Reede had defined success as a partnership, money, and plenty of women. But, thanks to his son’s birthday wish, Fletcher begins to understand what Jesus meant when He asked "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world... and loses his soul?" It’s this deeper moral message that explains why Liar, Liar resonates with filmgoers. After all, how successful would this movie be if, after the 24 hours was up, Fletcher went back to being a liar and a cheat? Like Ebeneezer Scrooge, Fletcher Reede learns in one day what it takes some people years to learn: that in all our relationships, integrity is the only guarantee of true happiness. So I say "one thumb up" for Liar, Liar, a comedy that drives home an important moral lesson-and one our culture needs: Climbing the ladder of success won’t be very satisfying if your pants are always on fire.


Chuck Colson


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