Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)
“He wasn’t the messiah. He was a very naughty boy.”
Director: The Monty Python team
Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin
Synopsis: Brian is born on the original Christmas, in the stable next door. He spends his life being mistaken for a messiah.
This is the kind of movie religious types would be offended by on principle, simply because it’s a comedy that revolves around — although isn’t directly about — the life of Christ. And yet Monty Python’s Life of Brian never ridicules Jesus, or takes his name in vain, or blasphemes. What it does do is highlight the way in which an essentially simple practice like the worshipping of a God can be misinterpreted and misunderstood in so many different ways. Do we worship the sandal or the gourd? It doesn’t really matter, and yet factions will go to war over such things.
Michael Palin described Life of Brian as heretical rather than blaspheming, which is just about right. The movie follows Brian from his birth in the manger next door to the one in which baby Jesus is born. The three wise men blunder in, leave their gifts and depart, only to hurriedly return to reclaim their goodies when they realise their mistake. Brian’s life henceforth follows a similar pattern, often travelling a parallel path to that of Jesus, but never actually crossing it. He attends the sermon on the mount from such a distance that those around him mishear ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ as ‘blessed are the cheese-makers,’ and is smitten by Judith, a member of the People’s Front of Judea, whom he seeks to join so that he can get close to her while also expressing his hatred for the Roman conquerors.
It’s not long before Brian’s exploits get him into hot water, and while attempting to escape from pursuing centurions he pretends to be a preacher. However, his pretence proves a little too effective, and within minutes he has amassed a fervently devoted congregation that follows him everywhere. This after he has, as part of his philosophy, beseeched them to think for themselves — ‘yes! We will think for ourselves!’ they obediently repeat.
Life of Brian is probably the most consistently funny of the Python crew’s movies, and they are on record as believing so themselves. For the most part, the humour is grounded in a recognisable version of reality (apart from one sequence in which Brian is whisked away from pursuing Romans by an alien spacecraft) and is therefore more accessible to those who are turned off by the more surreal aspects of their humour. Their TV humour seemed mostly to be one-part inspired, nine-parts dull, but the opposite is true here.
(Reviewed 19th March 2013)