Film

(Dis)Honesty Reminds Us That Our Pants Are Still on Fire

by

We humans like to believe certain things about ourselves: that we are good and honest people, for one. Sure, we might innocently add a few inches to our…height on online dating sites, or fudge our taxes, but we are essentially virtuous.

(Dis)Honesty, a documentary by Yael Melamede about why we lie, shows the extent to which we fib (almost everybody does, it turns out, across nations and gender and social class). Perhaps most interestingly, (Dis)Honesty shows us how we rationalize that mendacity. Guiding us through the many forms of deceit is Duke University psychologist (and founder of the Center for Advanced Hindsight) Dan Ariely, a highly engaging and affable researcher whose lecture anchors us in the great web of fabrication that is humanity.

Adding to Ariely’s experiments are interviews from high-profile prevaricators, including an NBA referee, a stock trader, MIT’s dean of admissions, and, most heartbreakingly, a black mother who lied about where she lived in order to give her two daughters a better education. (She ended up being criminally prosecuted and serving jail time, a reminder of the ugly truth of our justice system.) While (Dis)Honesty doesn’t reveal any mind-blowing insights, it is chock-full of fun trivia — bankers are twice as likely to lie as politicians, and swearing on a Bible does make us more likely to tell the truth.

Despite pointing out the horrific consequences of large-scale deceit (e.g., the financial crisis of ’08), the tone manages to remain cautiously optimistic. We’ve made our bed, after all. We might as well lie in it.