Film Review: (Dis)Honesty—The Truth About Lies [Yael Melamede, 2015]


Have you lied today? This month? This year? Why did you do it? Does this make you a bad person? These questions—and many others—are at the heart of (Dis)Honesty—The Truth About Lies, an enjoyable feature-length documentary directed by Yael Melamede and produced as part of The (Dis)Honesty Project, a partnership between Salty Features and best-selling author Dan Ariely. Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics at Duke University and head of Duke’s Center for Advanced Hindsight, specializes in researching human behaviour and challenging the notion that people almost always behave in a perfectly rational way; here, he sets his sights on trying to understand the motivations for lying, cheating (in sports and relationships) and other dishonest actions that go against conventional moral codes (including insider trading and other financial wrongdoings) in order to curb such behaviours.

Melamede gives Ariely and his collaborators plenty of space to discuss their research, experiments and findings as well as to explain key concepts, such as what Ariely calls the “fudge factor”—the ability to rationalize bad behaviour or lies. Ariely is a compelling and often humorous speaker, both when he talks about his personal journey (including how a childhood accident inspired his interest in irrationality) and in extensive excerpts from a presentation on the topic of dishonesty. The movie alternates between these excerpts, footage of experiments and several confessional talking-head interviews that are occasionally enhanced by surprisingly whimsical animations. It is in these interviews that we meet individuals who form a body of anecdotal evidence that, as Ariely puts it, lying “is not about being bad—it’s about being human”: Joe Papp, a professional cyclist who was caught doping; the creator of a deceitful guerrilla marketing campaign for I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell; Marilee Jones, the former Dean of Admissions at M.I.T. who had to resign for lying about her academic credentials; Kelley Williams-Bolar, a mother of two who lied about where she lived to enrol her children in a better school; Garrett Bauer, who is serving a 9-year sentence for insider trading; Tim Donaghy, the disgraced NBA referee who eventually went to prison for his role in an organized crime gambling circle; and many others.

At times, the long presentation clips and emphasis on anecdotal evidence make (Dis)Honesty feel a bit like an extended TED Talk (Ariely is a prolific TED Speaker whose TED Talks have accrued over 11 million views) or a visually enhanced episode of This American Life. Nevertheless, the movie is never less than thoroughly engaging, thanks to a fascinating subject matter and a breezy 90-minute running time. While (Dis)Honesty only skims the surface of the vast field of behavioural economics, it offers a window into Ariely and the Centre for Advanced Hindsight’s captivating research and astute insight into the human mind—plenty enough to compel filmgoers wishing to dig deeper to pick up one of Ariely’s many books on the subject, and perhaps to think twice that next time they find themselves on the cusp of telling a little white lie.


Posted on by Thierry Cote in Movies, Reviews