3 Stars – Challenging

The real life story of Clifford Irving is a living morality play.  Portrayed on film by Richard Gere and directed by Lasse Hallstrom, “The Hoax” convincingly portrays the destructive consequences of lying.  Like Walter Scott’s observation “O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive,” the dangerous web spun by Irving caught not only himself but his wife and best friend in its destructive lair.

            From the earliest codes of conduct to the present legal requirements, religions and societies have recognized that lies and deceit destroy trust, relationships, justice systems and economic ventures.  Though we sometimes admire a person who can con others into believing some outrageous scheme, the con-sequences are actually on the deceiver and empty his or her life of promise.

            Comparing his writing to that of Hemingway’s by his college professors, Irving had a life of literary promise before him.  But when his first book sold poorly and his second book was rejected, Irving panicked and claimed to be writing “the most important book of the 20th century.” This simple exaggeration was the first step in his decent.

This is often the case.  Few people choose as their life’s goal to become a liar, but the temptation is always before us.  In such small ways as leaving the impression that we are someone we are not, or claiming something about ourselves we know to be not quite true, these small exaggerations or misleading comments can easily grow into a pattern of deceptive behaviors and eventual lies.

However, his public professional life wasn’t where the deceit actually began.  It began in Irving’s private marital life.  Deceiving his wife Edith (Marcia Gay Harden), Irving had an affair with Baroness Nina Van Pallandt (Julie Delpy).  This lie adulterated his marriage and contaminated his soul.  As is often the case, his personal deception became his public deceit and Irving lost both his wife and his career.

What makes this telling of the story even more powerful is its multilayered message that Irving was not the only deceiver of his time.  Uncovering a web of Howard Hughes’ illegal bribery of Richard Nixon, the visual consequences of a national unrest is presented on film. Rather than contrasting his life with a moral president and upstanding business leader working together for a better nation and world, the web of deals and abuse of power not only cost Nixon his presidency and Hughes his legacy, but it cost our nation its justice and wisdom in both national and international decisions as well. Rather than leading our nation into peace, we all ended up in a web of deceit, distrust, civil unrest and the Vietnam war.

In a world where peace and prosperity is dependent upon our moral behaviors, “The Hoax” is a valuable reminder of the importance of honesty at all levels of our private and public lives.



  1. It is easy to leave others with the impression that we are better than we are.  How do you keep yourself from taking that first step in deceiving others? 
  2. When we choose to be immoral in other ways, such as adultery or thievery, we find that we must follow those acts with a lie.  Which do you experience as being more destructive in your life: the original immoral choice or the lie and deceit used to cover it up?
  3. In tying the story to its real consequences at the end of the film, it is explained that the Watergate break-in was directly related to Nixon’s paranoia that the Democratic party leaders knew about Hughes’ bribing him.  Have you ever had a sin from your past cause you to become paranoid that someone might find out?  How did you deal with it?
Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 3 STARS, CHALLENGING.