Review No. 399
The Bottom Line: Honk if you love Brian. Or just shout to Jehov–hey, I didn’t even finish the word yet!
Directed by: Terry Jones
Written by: Monty Python
Starring: Monty Python
Distributed by Orion Pictures and Warner Bros. on August 17, 1979. Produced in English and Latin by the United Kingdom. Runs 94 minutes. Rated R by the MPAA (profanity; mild violence; infrequent, graphic nudity).
Life of Brian was watched on January 22, 2013.
Brian (Graham Chapman): “You have to be different!”
Crowd: “Yes, we are all different!”
Small lonely voice: “I’m not!”
Following a brief nativity scene and a stone tablet title sequence, Monty Python’s Life of Brian opens in Judea, 33 AD. More specifically, it’s Saturday afternoon, somewhere around tea time.
This is the day on which Jesus Christ preached the Sermon on the Mount, according to the Christian faith. Several thousands of people are gathered ’round, listening to the speech. And in the back row, there are a horde of spectators bickering among themselves.
Does this not sound realistic? I mean, people bicker all the time at public gatherings. You go to the movies, and there’s always that guy, hiding in the back row so as not to be caught, laughing wildly and disrupting any focus toward the screen. You go to school, there’s always the two idiots behind you whispering as the teacher gives you midterm notes. It is quite probable, and whereas we are told of the sermon itself in the Bible, the Book of Python suggests the reaction from the audience.
This is the sort of humor that pushes laughter to the extremes in Monty Python’s satire. Even from the most devoutly Christian perspective, much of what the Bible asks us to believe is truly oulandish. And to believe this all requires a true, bona fide subscription to stories we have little record of.
This is what Monty Python is pondering in their brilliant followup to Holy Grail. The next question they tackle is, What could the New Testament be in a fully accessible tone? Which implies, What if everything in Jesus Christ’s life could be paralleled by a completely ordinary man?
Life of Brian succeeds in its attempt to tell this satirical story, and with very little sacrilege. We’re expected to know the general story of Jesus’s life, as the film is an allusion at feature-length. Not once is Jesus Christ mentioned directly, but the protagonist is a middle-class man named Brian, whose life story is told through similar events.
Life of Brian is a roaring comedy that takes an unlikely hero to brave levels. The film doesn’t want to be the Bible; it just wants to make us laugh out loud. There’s enough ingenious writing to make that seem an easy task. I’ve seen Life of Brian twice, and I still very firmly believe this is the troupe’s magnum opus.
In the end, I am always left with an encouraging message: If several men can joyously sing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” while being crucified, it shouldn’t be that difficult to take my wholeheartedly recommendation. Okay, the first part is exaggeration. The recommendation needs to be a bit exaggerated.