In Liar Liar, Jim Carrey gains the superpower of not being able to lie for 24 hours. Wikipedia defines lying as

... a statement used intentionally for the purpose of deception. The practice of communicating lies is called lying, and a person who communicates a lie may be termed a liar.

Does this mean he just wasn't able to say anything deceptive, or does it mean he wasn't able to say anything that was false? I always thought it was the former, but there is one scene in the movie where he says...

I'm a bad father

...then looks shocked that he was able to say it on the day he wasn't able to lie, indicating that, according to the movie's logic, he cannot utter false statements. In short, my questions are, in Liar Liar, can Jim Carrey say a statement if:

  1. It is true but he genuinely believes it to be false?
  2. It is false but he genuinely believes it to be true?
  3. It may be true or false but he has no idea either way?
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    There is also the discussion about erectile dysfunction that raises a question mark. The judge asks him if it's true and Carrey's character replies "it has to be", implying he doesn't know either way but it must be because of the curse. – Darren Dec 7 '17 at 14:14
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    And he was able to be deceptive, as when he is talking to the judge about assaulting himself. "A madman, your honor!" etc etc. – JohnP Dec 7 '17 at 14:55
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    @JohnP, I thought he vaguely described himself when he was talking to the judge? – tilper Dec 7 '17 at 17:10
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    "the superpower of not being able to lie for 24 hours." That's not a super power!!! :) – RonJohn Dec 8 '17 at 0:14
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    If the latter, it would be a superpower! He could shout, "Apple shares will go down tomorrow! P != NP! Christianity is the one true religion! – Brian Risk Dec 8 '17 at 19:30
up vote 34 down vote accepted

In the original script, we see that Fletcher's incapacity is that he can't say something that he knows to be untrue. This includes not being able to hand a (previously written) statement that he knows is untrue to the judge in the divorce case.

He is, however able to be somewhat deceptive, as long as he doesn't actually lie. On several occasions he does say things that are strictly true, but ends up giving a misleading impression.

JUDGE STEVENS: Strong corroborating evidence?

FLETCHER: We have evidence that you are not going to-believe.

[Despite herself, Dana is beginning to look worried.]

JUDGE STEVENS: You're pretty confident how this trial is going to come out, eh, Mr. Reid?

FLETCHER (hopeless): "Confident" is too weak a word, Your Honor. I am certain what will happen if I take this puppy to trial. The verdict will be a stunning, humiliating defeat that will cut a spectacularly promising legal career off at the knees.

[Fletcher is referring to himself, of course, but Dana thinks he's speaking about her. She buckles.]

Note that despite the fact that she's clearly misunderstood what he meant, Fletcher feels no compulsion to correct her.


Fletcher is also able to say things that are objectively false (untrue) as long as he believes them to be true. He states that the distance between Los Angeles and Boston is "3000 miles", however a quick look at the map reveals that it's only 2800 miles by road or less than 2600 miles as the crow flies.

FLETCHER: You can't go. It's not fair. Taking Max three thousand miles away is not fair.

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    2600-2800's rounded approximation would be 3000 miles, so he's not wrong – user13267 Dec 7 '17 at 15:32
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    I don't think the last statement is a lie, or even inaccurate. There's no direct connection between the distance and the city. Taking Max 3,000 miles away isn't fair, full stop. That's regardless of whether that's where Boston is located. – Nuclear Wang Dec 7 '17 at 16:55
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    @NuclearWang - Well it's certainly not objectively true. It's false. If I owed you a hundred dollar and I gave you $86, you'd not be happy – Valorum Dec 7 '17 at 17:34
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    @Valorum I fail to see how your example applies to my comment. If you gave me $86 and I said "you can't give me $80, it's not fair," that's still a completely true statement. What's the false statement here? – Nuclear Wang Dec 7 '17 at 17:58
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    @Valorum My point isn't whether rounding is lying or not. It's that my statement about $80 is totally unconnected to how much money you actually gave me. It's the same as if you gave me $86 and said "you can't give me a kick in the pants, it's not fair". I never said you gave me a kick in the pants, I just said it would be unfair for you to give me one - which is a completely true statement. I agree there's some linguistic inference that connects the statement to what we're actually talking about, but the statement itself is not false. – Nuclear Wang Dec 7 '17 at 18:52

My understanding of the movie is that the curse prevents him from saying anything he believes to be false, not that it magically prevents him from saying anything that's untrue.

(The latter would actually be a major benefit for him as a lawyer, as he could determine the objective truth of things just by trying to say them out loud.)

The fact that he was able to say that was a bad father (which I think he says more than once in the movie, IIRC) means that deep down he really did believe that to be true. He may have been lying to himself his entire life about it, but he knew the truth. His inability to lie meant that even his own internal lies couldn't be spoken out loud.

  • so that would mean 1) no and 2) & 3) yes? – user13267 Dec 7 '17 at 14:52
  • Basically, yes. – KutuluMike Dec 7 '17 at 16:59

This question is resolvable quite satisfactorily from the movie's plot alone.

After Fletcher Reede (Jim Carrey) has been afflicted with the curse, he has this exchange with his ex-wife:

"You're really coming?"

"This is ironclad. This is the mother of all promises."

However, Fletcher ends up angering the judge and getting thrown into jail for contempt of court. As a result, he misses his agreed-upon appointment with his ex-wife (and they embark on the plane without waiting for him).

From this we can infer that Fletcher is compelled to speak truthfully about what he believes to be true and about his (sincere) intentions. However, it seems he can't predict the future. It seems unlikely that he has been granted any superpowers involving special knowledge or foreknowledge.

...then looks shocked that he was able to say it on the day he wasn't able to lie, indicating that, according to the movie's logic, he cannot utter false statements

Your conclusion is incorrect. This means that he believes that he can't utter statements that are fundamentally untrue. No one has explained him the exact conditions and effect of the curse, so we shouldn't assume that the things he believes are necessarily correct.

(As an aside, if he couldn't tell things that were fundamentally untrue, regardless of his knowledge, it would be more of a superpower with a drawback than a curse. You could find out the answers to any question about life, the universe, and everything, just by iterating over the possible answers and trying to say them.)

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    Lee Harvey Oswald acted al...al... WITH HELP FROM THE CIA!!! – Kevin Dec 7 '17 at 16:27
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    "The Mega Millions winning number is zer.., on..., two..woo ok the number is two zer.., two on..." – DasBeasto Dec 7 '17 at 16:43
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    And if he to try to say "At least one of the following are true: this statement is false, or I'm going to get a million dollars", then the only way the universe can remain consistent is if he gets a million dollars. – Acccumulation Dec 7 '17 at 19:14
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    ...except that the curse acts by simply not letting him say things. – Ben Barden Dec 7 '17 at 19:41
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    @IllusiveBrian Technically the first statement would always be true since he can't utter anything false, and the next thing he is able to say would vindicate it. He wouldn't be able to say the second one, but whatever he said next would be true. – BlackThorn Dec 8 '17 at 0:18

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