STREAMING REVIEW: Get Uncomfortable With ‘(Dis)Honesty’

Everybody lies. That’s the main thread in documentary “(Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies.” Through interviews with philosophers, psychiatrists and marketing reps, this documentary gets to the heart of BS.

Some pros: a philosopher shares his decision to not tell his kids about Santa Claus or the tooth fairy and a mother talks about hiding a cake from her kids to eat it herself. “(Dis)Honesty)” is good about the buildup.

Before launching into it, director Yael Melamede introduces charming interviews with college students speaking about their fake accents, their tall tales about significant others and stumbling on camera about how they don’t lie.

At the center of this film is the research of Dan Ariely, founder of the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University. He runs hundreds of experiments to understand human behavior, spending the last couple of years on dishonesty. In these experiments, he finds “People are myopic, vindictive,” he said. And “(Dis)Honesty” dives right in.

Dan Ariely
Dan Ariely

This film gives examples of modern dishonesty in guerilla marketing at the hand of Ryan Holiday, the guy behind Tucker Max, the author of “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.” What’s interesting is seeing the avalanche effect from false emails to planting offensive ads to vandalizing said ads and then leaking the vandalism to media — all to increase sales.

“PR and marketing, almost by their very nature, involve the sort of step onto the slippery slope,” he says. And this documentary is steady in not shining any of its human subjects in judgment. “(Dis)Honesty” feels like a research paper come to life, using some animation for re-enactments and old footage and images when possible. It’s categorized by bullet points and supported with engaging human testimonials.

Another fascinating example is Marilee Jones, former dean of admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Jones shares her own lie-detecting skills, which made her top quality in her former field. She shares her stardom, and then she begins to stumble when talking about when her professional life fell apart:

“Often, people will get a bio or they’ll introduce you a certain way … some people think I have a masters, some think a Ph.D.,” she said.

She never corrected them and before that, she “morphed” her resume to get into MIT. She was exposed as having misrepresented her credentials and she resigned.

“I’m not the only one. This is a deeply human experience,” she said, and this film offers a wide array of tall tales and real consequences.

Some other highlights: The science of lying, dishonesty as a contagion, men and women lie the same amount and fibbing aids childhood development.

Marilee Jones
Marilee Jones

“Unless children lie and unless children dream big, they may not have the capacity to develop the theory of mind,” said Murali Doraiswamy, psychiatrist at Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.

From this, “(Dis)Honesty” eventually treks from infidelity to lies behind the 2008 financial crisis. It remains pragmatic and clinical. “It’s not about being bad, it’s about being human,” Ariely said.

This documentary is super unsettling to watch. It has this side effect of self-reflection and of some uneasiness about human nature as a whole. Somehow, in the tail end, director Melamede brings it back and makes it OK, there’s hope for us. And if there’s one criticism, this film could’ve used more about the solution.

What’s fascinating about this is watching people share their dishonesties openly, without self-judgment. Seeing them so candid makes a viewer feel a closeness, and also paves the way for a lack of judgment — though not completely. As this film shows so clearly, we’re all human.

It’s difficult, it’s fascinating and it’s worth seeing.

Grade: B


Time: 1:29

Rating: NR

Available: Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix Instant, VUDU

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