Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Catching up tardily with one of the year's best documentaries: Yael Melamede's terrific (DIS)HONESTY: THE TRUTH ABOUT LIES

TrustMovies was in the midst of preparing for his move south when (DIS)HONESTY: THE TRUTH ABOUT LIES hit theaters last spring. It has taken him more than six months to catch up with this unusual and unusually fine documentary, but the wait was worth it, and he recommends the film to you now, as one of the best docs of this past year. It introduces us to (or maybe "reminds us of" would be a better wording) humanity's predilection toward hypocrisy, denial and, yes. lying and cheating. But instead of gloating in any tired, "told you so" manner, the movie -- just as does its "star" and narrator, the charming Dan Ariely -- actually proves more spirited than dispiriting, even hopeful about our chances of keeping this especially obstinate characteristic in check.

Mr. Ariely, shown at right, is funny and smart, as he tells us of his own story and the horrible accident that starts it off, and how this leads him to wanting to know more about mankind's need to prevaricate in various ways.

The film's director, Yael Melamede, shown left, does a fine job of moving us along and weaving together Mr. Ariely's ideas and lectures to a welcoming crowd with the stories of various liar and cheats, each of whom differs from the others in major ways as they tell their tales with a welcome honesty and quiet contrition. Their crimes vary in magnitude (in my estimation the state of Ohio has more to answer for than the mother it tosses into jail for trying to give her children a better education), but each one is a fascinating story, well worth telling.

These have to do with everything from college admissions and Wall Street insider trading (above) to cheating on one's spouse (below) and refereeing basketball (further below).

Along the way, we learn about various experiments in human behavior regarding lying and cheating, the outcomes of which will surprise and amuse. Who lies the most, folk: bankers or politicians? Who cheats more: men or women? Watch this movie, and you'll discover the answers.

We also learn about behavioral economics, rather than the more standard kind (the former is Ariely's specialty), and how "distance from the money" can make cheating easier. The film is full of juicy (perhaps unintentional at the time of filming) ironies, too. Watching Brian Williams report on how Marilee Jones was caught lying about her background is, well, too bizarrely funny for words.

Does "good lying" exist? And how about those lie detectors -- that can pick up when we're lying for personal gain but don't show a thing when the lie is for the betterment of a charity? The documentary goes into all this and more, and Ariely proves such a charming and witty raconteur that we'd probably stick around were the movie twice as long as its fact-filled, thoughtful 90 minutes.

Best of all, (Dis)Honesty doesn't simply point out the problem. It also shows us a few ways of helping circumvent it -- via suggestions put into practice in India, Scandinavia and elsewhere. "Lying," explains Ariely, "is not about being bad but being human. We all have the capacity to build a better, more ethical, more honest world." The movie shows us why & how.

Available on DVD as of December 1, you can order the film from various sources. Two of these are linked here and here.  Or watch it via Amazon Instant Video.

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