Life of Brian
Monty Python is not for everyone, but it totally works for me.
My son is very much into Monty Python too and has been eager to watch “Life of Brian” with me for some time. Friday evening it was finally it, and we had a blast. The verdict was overwhelmingly positive from both of us.
“Life of Brian” is the second feature length movie from the Monty Python group following “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975) and several seasons of their “Flying circus” show. “Life of Brian” is a parallel story to the life of Jesus, creating a character, Brian, who was born in a stable next door to Jesus. Everything Brian experiences is however absurd in the extreme. He wants to fight the Romans, but the revolutionary groups are extremely fractured and more interested in dogma and fighting each other. He gets mistaken for a prophet and find himself with an unwanted and enthusiastic following and finally is he gets crucified following a botched raid on Pilates palace. He is actually pardoned, but his neighbor on the cross is released instead of him.
Sounds horrible, actually, but it is so absurdly carried out that it is hilariously funny.
As was the case with “The Holy Grail”, the movie is essentially a series of sketches only very loosely tied together. The sketches tend to get tangential to the story, working out in directions that are amusing but not exactly helpful to the overall story and at times it gets outright wacky, such as when Brian briefly gets abducted by an alien spaceship and find himself in the middle of a space dogfight only to crash right where he was picked up.
When we discussed the movie afterwards, we both picked the stoning scene as our favorite. So, what is so funny about a stoning, you may ask. Only men can attend a stoning so everybody there are women wearing fake beards. The accused has uttered the Lord’s name and must be stoned, but this results in the name being mentioned repeatedly followed by throwing of stones until it ends in chaos. Well, you kind of have to watch it.
The Monty Python team is Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Tery Jones and Michael Palin. As usual they all play multiple parts, which may sound confusing, but makes perfect sense in the moment. Each of them have their specialty sort of character that they do amazingly will, and I will just briefly mention Cleese as Roman soldier/policeman and Palin as Pilate with a speech deficiency (what is so funny about a name like Naughtius Maximus or Biggus Dickus?).
The controversy around “Life of Brian” is that it is accused of being blasphemous, mocking Jesus and Christianity. As usual, religious hardliners have no sense of humor. Actually, the movie is quite respectful about Jesus himself. It is everything else it is mocking. Fractured political revolutionaries, religious zealousness, barbaric practices, authoritarian policing and everything in between. It is satire, but it is satire on conventions, institutions and human folly, not on the religious message. That, in fact, is skirted quite neatly.
One should always be careful looking for a message or a point in Monty Python’s material. I do not think sending a message as such was their objective in general. If anything should be extracted though, it would be that life is full of absurdity and there is very little you can actually control, so you just have to get the best out of it. This, almost insane, optimism is most clearly on display in the end sequence when Brian is crucified by mistake and has been deserted by all family and relations to die a horrible death. In this, worst of all situations, the prisoners hanging around him starts to sing:
If life seems jolly rotten
There's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing
When you're feeling in the dumps
Don't be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle, that's the thing
Always look on the bright side of life
If you can keep optimistic in the face of such adversity, nothing will knock you down.
I like that idea.