Could Monty Python’s Life of Brian be the funniest film ever made? I absolutely think so. I have mentioned it previously, but the Monty Python troupe have always been personal heroes of mine, ranging from my early days when my father showed me sketches from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I was captivated by the absurdity, the darkness and the brilliance that resided in the minds of these six men and were displayed to us in unsettling glory in their films and television show. I have (and will always have) a soft spot of them, as their brand of humour is so similar to mine (although I’d probably say they are more responsible for crafting my own demented mind rather than agreeing with it), and I will never tired of their brilliance. It goes without saying that it is always a joy to introduce neophytes to the unshackled brilliance that is Monty Python, and a good place to start is Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Tonight, my brother was introduced to it, and I thought it would be a great time to revisit what very well may be the greatest comedy film ever made.
It really doesn’t need to be said what this film is about, but for those of you who only know the name and not the story, Monty Python’s Life of Brian is about the titular Brian, who just so happens to be born down the street from Jesus Christ himself. While Jesus is making a name for himself as the visionary and beloved Son of God, Brian grows up to be painfully ordinary. He lives with his mother (the always terrific Terry Jones), but growing weary of the Roman occupation, he becomes somewhat of a militant anti-Roman mercenary – and along the way encounters a variety of very strange characters that prove that Brian isn’t actually the Messiah, he’s just a naughty boy. A dreadfully normal naughty boy.
Monty Python has always depended on the fact that it is just far too absurd. Nowadays, living in a world where there is certainly a niche audience for absurdist humour and dark comedy (which often isn’t even comedy at all), it is difficult to remember how visionary and innovative Monty Python were. They came crashing into a world run by toothless, inoffensive comedy that had normal situations garner laughs. These six men singlehandedly changed comedy forever – they managed to pull laughter out of the most outrageous places, and they also made it clear that nothing is taboo to them – not even religion, perhaps the most sensitive subject in the world. They didn’t only pander towards satire – they helped define it. I firmly believe that every comedy, across any medium, owes itself to Monty Python in some way. While many may disagree, I don’t think anything defines the troupe more than Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a perfect blend of everything that made Monty Python absolutely historical.
Many people feel that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is the defining moment for the group, and while I do agree that it is beyond iconic, it is certainly nothing when comparing it to Monty Python’s Life of Brian. While Monty Python and the Holy Grail is hilarious and absolutely brilliant, Monty Python’s Life of Brian is so beautifully constructed and precise in how it handles the satire of the subject – and we have to consider pure, unadulterated audacity – these six men dared take on religion, something that is still very sensitive today, nevermind in 1979, when the world was far more conservative than it is now (one can only wonder what the Monty Python troupe would have done if they lived in different eras of history – something tells me they would have given William Shakespeare a run for him money). There is just something about Monty Python’s Life of Brian that strikes me as the defining moment in the work of the Pythons. There is nary a moment in their repertoire that isn’t brilliant, but the sheer scope of satire present in Monty Python’s Life of Brian just makes it that much more definitive and allows it to occupy a very special place in my heart (but I’ll tell you, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life will always be my absolute favorite piece of Monty Python work – but that’s a story for another day)
What makes Monty Python so wonderful is how each of the six men occupied a different position in terms of talents – they each had their own distinctive quirks and character types, and as a result never actually clashed with another in terms of characters, because they played characters only they could play. There was never a conflict of interests there. They are all relatively equal in my eyes, because they aren’t comparable, but rather admirable as a group, each one with their own distinctive features. However, saying that, the truth of the matter is that Graham Chapman was Monty Python’s secret weapon. Rarely playing a maniacal character, he mostly served as the uptight, straight man who was a foil to the other characters. He might not have the most iconic characters (even if his Colonel is perhaps my favorite Monty Python character ever) – but he did have something else that the others struggled with slightly – genuine star-quality. This may have put him at a slight disadvantage in the show, but when it came to the films, he was the natural leading man. He lead two of the Monty Python films, and while they are all undeniably ensemble efforts, Chapman was the rock of the films. His performance in Monty Python’s Life of Brian is a genuinely impressive cinematic performance – he is hilarious, compelling and excellent, and he really did prove that he was the performer that held the troupe together. It is an utter tragedy that he left us so soon, because we were robbed of such a brilliant performer who had so much more to offer.
But there were also five other men in the group, and they were equally as wonderful in everything. In this film, we may not have seen much from Terry Gilliam (he really did serve his equally iconic purpose behind the scenes), but we saw the Pythons in their prime, giving their best performances. They were all hilarious and did remarkably well in forming this film with performances that showed them at their very best. I have to say that Michael Palin steals the show several times, particularly with his Pontius Pilate segments, the likes of which I have never laughed harder at. The impeccable comic timing and comedic brilliance of these men can never be underestimated, and if they aren’t considered historically significant artists for their sheer genius, then I am not quite sure what is true anymore. John Cleese is as reliable and madcap as usual, and Terry Jones manages to do double-duty, also directing this filmw while still playing Mrs. Cohen, who has the most iconic line in the entire film (“he’s not the Messiah – he’s a very naughty boy”). Eric Idle also can never be considered unreliable in bringing the energy to these films and rejuvenating every scene with his strange but adorable nature.
It may be 2017, and I may be a lot more open-minded than many people, but I honestly do not see what was so blasphemous about this film. Of course, it takes on religion and sometimes is quite harsh – yet this film does not ever once propose that anything about religion, such as the teachings or figures, were not real. It doesn’t attack Christianity at all – rather, it peacefully co-exists alongside the Biblical stories. It just so happens to be set in the same narrative universe, where there are some common themes. Honestly, Monty Python’s Life of Brian was clearly made as a satirical response to religion – and there was intention to ruffle some feathers, but as a whole, it is still a very endearing and positive film that simply has the intention of being funny, and considering there are far more hateful things produced by the very same people who get offended by films like this, it just allows this film to grow in credibility and relevance.
As a whole, Monty Python’s Life of Brian is one of the greatest pieces of cinema ever made. It is probably the funniest film I have ever seen, something that never fails to make me laugh hysterically throughout. I always watch this film when I need something endearing and funny, and there is just no way to top the sheer brilliance that the troupe concocted with Monty Python’s Life of Brian – it isn’t that offensive, and if this film offends you, then perhaps you shouldn’t be watching anything by Monty Python, because by being offended by this film, you are just being the very reason the Pythons made Monty Python’s Life of Brian – to offend those that just sometimes need to be forced out of their comfort zones. A wonderful and iconic film that still holds up to this day – technically and thematically – as much as it did nearly forty years ago. Tremendous work of historical proportions.