Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)

Written and Performed by Graham Chapman, John Cleese,
Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin
Directed by Terry Jones

Review by Tim

"No cow too sacred!" could have been the advertising slogan for this film. Not content with lampooning Arthurian legend (Monty Python & the Holy Grail in 1974), the comedy troupe from "Pommy-land" next turned their attentions to the life of the western world's most revered religious figure. Brian Cohen was born in Bethlehem on the same night as Jesus Christ, in the stable just across the lane (the astrologers from the east were briefly confused by the proximity, but happily rectified their mistake, after mugging Brian's mother). His life from that moment on was a parody of the famous Galilean's.

We next meet Brian as a young man, stuck at the back of the crowd during the Sermon on the Mount:

"What was that?"
"I think it was 'Blessed are the cheesemakers.'"
"What's so special about the cheesemakers?"
"Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products."
At this time, of course, the Romans are in charge of Palestine, which really ticks-off the locals:

"All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"
Brian soon becomes involved with "The People's Front of Judea" (NOT the "Judean People's Front", or "The Popular Front of Judea"), a radical terrorist group dedicated to the overthrow of rival terrorist groups and, in their spare time, the Roman Empire:

"Brothers! Brothers! We should be struggling together!"
"We are!"
"We mustn't fight each other! Surely we should be united against the common enemy!"
"The Judean People's Front?!"
"No, no! The Romans!"
"Oh, yeah."
Subsequently, Brian is captured by the Romans, escapes, is hailed as the Messiah by a crowd of gullible followers (who seem oddly similar to new age cultists here in Santa Fe), is recaptured by the Romans, and is sentenced to death by crucifixion. The film ends with Brian and a crowd of others, bound to crosses by ropes (the actors probably objected to nails, the wimps), singing Eric Idle's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life".

I saw this film in a movie theatre on its initial release in 1979, and I find it every bit as hilarious today as I did then. The "Latin language lesson" given to Brian by the centurion brought back memories of my own high-school Latin instructor, and Pilate's lisping "Bigus Dickus" segment had the theatre audience laughing hard enough to bring tears.

Leaders of the various Christian denominations did not find the film amusing at all or, if they did, would not admit to it. Certainly they inveighed heavily against it and, in the USA at least, their congregations mostly listened. The film is largely forgotten in this country, although I understand it was immensely popular in Europe, and is considered there to be a comedy classic. The attitudinal differences between Europeans and Americans is a subject of much speculation, which I will not delve into here. I'll simply note that, if you can loosen up enough to take a bit of teasing with good humor, you'll find Monty Python's Life of Brian a genuinely funny film.