Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)


Monty Python’s second feature film was far more controversial than their first, The Holy Grail. It is not that the troupe’s comedy changed at all, they just picked the wrong topic to make fun of. There were very few medieval historians that were going to be rubbed the wrong way by Python poking fun at King Arthur and his search for the Holy Grail. But when that humour was directed at religion, people were lining up to take a swipe at the movie. Life of Brian was even banned in some countries. I find the whole situation ridiculous. I am a big believer in freedom of speech, particularly when it comes to comedy. I feel like no topic should be taboo, you just need to know your audience to understand what is acceptable. Obviously religious people were not the target market of this movie. They should have just ignored it and let it go away. What their outrage ended up doing was creating buzz for the movie, which made people want to see it even more, just to see what all the fuss was about. I feel like if you don’t want to be offended, don’t watch it. If people can find enjoyment out of something you are outraged by, good luck to them. The world is still going to keep on spinning, and the chances of us all agreeing on something are very unlikely. This is even more so when discussing religion or politics.

Ok, freedom of speech rant over, let’s talk about Life of Brian. So unless it wasn’t completely given away by the title, this is the story of Brian (Graham Chapman), who was born a few stables down from Jesus on the same night. This leads him to a life of living in the Messiah’s shadow until he gets caught up in a rebellion against the Roman empire.

As in the Holy Grail, Brian feels like several skits pieced together, depicting Brian’s life and adventures. There are some very funny moments, particularly the biggus dickus scene and just as with any Python production, a snappy musical number ends the movie. There is so much fun to be had in this film. It is still hilarious over 35 years later. I believe some countries have only recently lifted the ban on this movie, I really can’t believe we live in a society where something like this is banned. I am such a huge believer in self-deprecating humour, and if you can’t laugh at yourself, then who can? There is so much anger in the world, I really think laughter is a great way to relax. If we could take ourselves a little less seriously, the world would be a better place. Wait, I know I said rant over, I guess it wasn’t.

Life of Brian is Monty Python at the top of their game. The humour was cutting edge in the 1970s and is still very funny today.

Rating: A-

Life of Brian is my favorite Monty Python movie. As much as I love The Holy Grail, the legend of King Arthur was only familiar to me through second hand sources, primarily Disney’s The Sword and the Stone. I could appreciate the absurd humor, but most of the historical references were lost on me. But Life of Brian is different. I spent about 16 years of my life attending church and Sunday school every week. The story, the characters, and the historical references lampooned in Brian are deeply familiar to me, so even the most obscure jokes land.

As far as religious mockery goes, Life of Brian is pretty tame. The fact that it was widely banned after its 1979 release makes me laugh. When compared to a movie like Dogma or countless South Park episodes, this is nothing. In fact, the film doesn’t attack religion itself so much as the man made institutions that grow from it. There’s a sense of real respect for people who truly understand the tenants of their faith, with the most cutting jabs reserved for the blind adherents and hypocrites that are found in any religion.

If you watch the movie closely, you’ll notice that Jesus is always shown great respect. There is a somberness to his short appearances, with the actor portraying him playing the role straight. The jokes come from other people’s misunderstanding of his teachings. (“I think he said, ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers.'”) What Jesus says isn’t being disputed or made fun of, the Python’s seem to actually like those bits of the New Testament.

What makes Life of Brian more successful than Holy Grail is a better formed story. That’s not to say that Brian doesn’t feel like a collection of skits at times. There is definitely that comedy routine feel to parts of the movie, but the plot moves along in a more coherent fashion than it does in Holy Grail. Some characters even get full story arcs. Crazy! The best part is that the troupe manages to do this without forgoing their absurd brand of humor. There are still plenty of strange setting this movie apart from your traditional biblical epics (For example, Brian temporarily joins a space battle after jumping off a building and landing in a spaceship).

Of course, the best part of Life of Brian is the end, which features the catchy and clever “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” I long thought this was the most British song I’d ever heard, an idea that was confirmed when Eric Idle sang the song during the closing of the 2012 London Olympic Games. It’s also the third most popular song that Britons would like played at their funeral, because of course it is. The UK is simultaneously weird and wonderful.

Rated: A

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