Saturday, March 31, 2012

#593. Life of Brian (1979) - Spotlight on England

Directed By: Terry Jones

Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin

Tag line: "He wasn't the messiah. He was a very naughty boy"

Trivia:  The only character to appear in all four Python films (And Now for Something Completely Different, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Meaning of Life and this one) is God

Soon after its release in 1979, Monty Python’s Life of Brian was attacked by religious leaders, who deemed it “blasphemous”, and as a result the movie was banned outright in countries such as Ireland and Norway. 

Even before the first day of shooting, Life of Brian had its problems; EMI, the company that originally agreed to finance the picture, pulled out after finding the final script a bit too risque for their liking (fortunately, good friend George Harrison stepped in, and Handmade Films was born). 

I find this all very interesting, especially when you consider that Life of Brian isn't so much a film about Jesus as it is a comedy that takes place at the same time he walked the earth. William Wyler did this very thing in 1959 with Ben-Hur, only without the jokes. 

Brian (Graham Chapman), whose mother is an unmarried peasant (director Terry Jones, in drag), was born in a manger. 

No, not that manger...the one across the street from it. 

Brian grows to manhood in Roman-occupied Judea, and dreams of the day the Romans will be driven from his homeland. To this end, he joins the People’s Front of Judea, a rebel organization - led by a talkative militant named Reg (John Cleese) - whose ultimate goal is to dispose of the Romans before a rival group, the Judean People’s Front, beats them to it. It’s here that Brian meets Judith (Sue Jones-Davies), a fellow rebel who instantly captures his heart. 

But even with a new love to brighten his days, things don’t go well for Brian. First, he’s captured by the Romans and brought before Pontius Pilate (Michael Palin) for sentencing. Then, after escaping that fate, he's mistaken for the Messiah by a pack of persistent followers who refuse to leave him alone! 

Life of Brian takes humorous potshots at everything from speech impediments to sci-fi, though for my money its funniest scene centers on a poorly-organized public stoning, with women in beards posing as men and a Jewish Official (John Cleese) who doesn't realize until its much too late that uttering the word “Jehovah” can be hazardous to your health. 

But along with the comedy, Monty Python’s Life of Brian also conveys a very intriguing message, one that I'm convinced was at the root of the problems it experienced with religious leaders. When Brian is erroneously declared the new Messiah by a rowdy gang of rabble, he does his best to convince them there’s nothing “divine” about him, that he's just as ordinary as they are. He says (in no uncertain terms) that his followers should learn to stand on their own two feet, that they don’t need anybody telling them what to do. 

Is this message anti-theological? Perhaps. Yet one could argue it’s also anti-government, anti-establishment, and a few other “antis” I can’t even think of right now. The Python’s aren’t so much lampooning organized religion (at least not exclusively) as they are addressing the fundamental desire to latch on, to be led through life instead of setting out on one's own path. 

It's a sticky subject, to be sure, but to their credit, the Pythons don't shy away from it; they tackle it head-on.

Oh, and Life of Brian is also flat-out hilarious. Can't forget that.


AK Williams said...

A very very funny movie. Loved it when I first saw it when I was in my late teens & now being nearly fifty it still makes me laugh.
I think ending the movie with "Always look on the bright side of life" is brilliant.
Monty Pythons finest.

DVD Infatuation said...

@H.E.: I also first saw LIFE OF BRIAN when I was a teen, and like you, I still find it hilarious. As for the final musical number, I remember a local radio morning show in the '80s used to play that song every Friday morning. It was weird hearing my classmates singing it, yet having absolutely no idea where it came from!

Thanks for the comment said...


Rit said...

Was that WMMR?

DVD Infatuation said...

@RIT: Yes, it was WMMR! That's the station