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Dissecting the Classics – Monty Python’s Life of Brian

June 22, 2018 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard
Monty Python's Life of Brian

This week’s column is going to be a little lighter than usual. Partly because the film in question is really pretty simple and I don’t feel the need to argue its merit, but more because I’ve just been busy and the last few weeks have taken quite a bit out of me. So if you were hoping for another 1,200+ word essay on Life of Brian… sorry.

Welcome to Dissecting the Classics . In this column, I analyze films that are almost universally loved and considered to be great. Why? Because great movies don’t just happen by accident. They connect with initial audiences and they endure for a reason. This column is designed to keep meaningful conversation about these films alive.

Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Wide Release Date: August 17, 1979 (U.S), November 8, 1979 (UK)
Directed By: Terry Jones
Written By: Monty Python
Produced By: John Goldstone
Cinematography By: Peter Bizou
Edited By: Julian Doyle
Music By: Geoffrey Burgon
Production Company: HandMade Films, Python (Monty) Pictures
Distributed By: Cinema International Corporation (UK), Orion Pictures/Warner Bros. (US)
Graham Chapman as Brian Cohen, and others
Terry Jones as Brian’s mother (Mandy), and others
John Cleese, Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle as various
Sue Jones-Davies as Judith Iscariot

What Do We All Know?

So Monty Python is great. If you haven’t seen Life of Brian, you probably at least know of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and know that all five of these gentlemen were comedic geniuses with a gift for satire and wit. Life of Brian takes that Monty Python goodness and puts it in the middle of Judea during the time of Jesus of Nazareth. While Jesus is featured in two scenes early on, most of the film is actually about Brian, a Jewish man born on the same day as Jesus. His primary concerns are the Roman Occupation and getting laid. When he gets caught up in a revolution and is captured by the Romans, he is forced to impersonate a prophet and accidentally creates a cult who believe that he is the Messiah.

Naturally, the film has more than its fair share of controversy, from religious protests to years long bans in Norway. I won’t presume to tell anyone how to handle their faith, but for those who can enjoy a group of talented comedians tackling the more ridiculous aspects of dogma, then this is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. I consider it to be a must watch, so if you haven’t seen it… well, hopefully I can convince you to do so without ruining it.

What Went Right?

To answer the question that looms over this section; basically everything. The comedy group Monty Python (Terry Jones, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Michael Palin and the late Graham Chapman) was a fixture in British comedy since 1969. All of them are tremendously talented individuals with great chemistry, and have produced more genuinely great comedy than almost any modern artist. Give these masters of sketch comedy a fertile field to work with, and you get something that’s funny, smart and often insightful. Life of Brian is mostly a collection of sketches, as per the Monty Python tradition, but there’s a better narrative throughline than usual which makes it feel more like a movie.

I can’t really get into the specifics of Life of Brian without spoiling it, as even throwing out my favorite out of context lines feels like ruining the fun. But I will say that I fell in love with the movie with it’s sermon on the mount scene, which features people mishearing Jesus’ beatitudes and fighting amongst themselves over it. It’s funny, but it also points to where this movie’s heart is at. It’s not here to take a piss on Christianity, but on how people misread it, misuse it and fight amongst themselves over minor disagreements on dogma. I had to pause the movie during the stoning scene that follows, a “Who’s On First?”-like sketch that just killed me. And once the “Cult of Bryan” gets going, the movie keeps raising the bar for pointed, hysterical satire. This movie is just pure gold for most of its runtime, with literally hundreds of classic lines.

What Went Wrong?

Comedy is often the quickest genre to age and the most likely to age poorly. Life of Brian is largely timeless, which is a huge testament to its quality. But there is an instance of blackface that wasn’t necessary and made me cringe a bit, and I also don’t care for Chapman’s collection of slurs when Brian goes on his prideful rant about Jewish. That’s just my sensibilities though, and honestly I don’t hold it against a film from the 1970s. I imagine other people have a lot more problems with the movie that stem from its very premise, and that’s fine too. But if two or three jokes in a 90-minute runtime are eye-rollers, that’s a pretty good batting average.

And In Summary…

Look, just go see this movie, guys. Monty Python is great, this movie is great, and it deserves all the praise it gets. I was more than a bit skeptical about this being hailed as the funniest comedy of all time, but I’m actually inclined to agree with that assessment. Along with Monty Python and the Holy Grail, this is a movie you should definitely see at least once and will probably end up watching several times.

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Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, The Matrix, Batman (1989), Casablanca, Goldfinger, X2, King Kong (1933), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Dark Crystal, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, The Silence of the Lambs, Alien, Aliens, Casino Royale, Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Batman (1966), The Maltese Falcon, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, 12 Angry Men, Aladdin, The Wizard of Oz, Dial M For Murder, Godzilla (1954), The Hurt Locker, The Breakfast Club, Iron Man, The Shining, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, Blade Runner, Rosemary’s Baby, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Princess Bride, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Toy Story, Star Wars – Part 1, Star Wars – Part 2, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Die Hard, Spirited Away, Airplane!, Dirty Dancing, RoboCop, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Captain America: The First Avenger, In the Heat of the Night, West Side Story, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Rocky, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sixth Sense, The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Clerks, Goodfellas, The Avengers, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Frozen, Jaws, The Omen, The Incredibles

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