Review: Life of Brian – Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

Life of Brian – Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

Directed by: Terry Jones | 94 minutes | comedy | Actors: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Sue Jones-Davies, Terence Bayler, Carol Cleveland, Kenneth Colley, Neil Innes, John Young, Gwen Taylor, Peter Brett, Charles McKeown

Monty Python’s genius high school humor reached a dramatic climax with ‘Life of Brian’. In the life of Jesus Christ the boys found an ideal coat rack for their perverse humor; the unfocused absurdism of the television series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and films such as ‘The Holy Grail’ is given a more than worthy successor in ‘Life of Brian’ with a smooth story.

Many beliefs get hit by it; in an otherwise mild way, we can observe in the silver jubilee year of the film. The ‘blasphemy’ in ‘Life of Brian’ is almost unctuous compared to the raw truthfulness in ‘The Passion of the Christ’. ‘Brian’ in retrospect is far from an indictment of Christianity alone; left-wing activist groups and feminists must believe it as well.

Central is the role of Brian, who as a well-meaning mother’s child is actually defenseless against all doctrines. In the desperation of his situation, he eventually calls for individualism. We must see that as the message of the Pythons. Thankfully, it’s fully embedded in the humor; it could have been a lot more absurd, but the six keep their feet on the brakes and concentrate on a clever plot with momentum, which makes ‘Brian’ one of the most accessible of the Python productions. Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones all find a few characters that are just right for them and they all excel. Chapman as Brian and garrison chief Biggus Dickus; Cleese as the dominant revolutionary and centurion; Palin as Pilate and crucifixion officer and Gilliam as thunder prophet and deaf-mute dwarf. Perhaps most notable are Idle as a crucifixion enthusiast and Jones as Brian’s mother; both roles are magnified in such a way that every sourdough is taken out of the sails beforehand.

The downside is the spaceship that Brian saves from death halfway through the film, but that too is typical Monty Python; with so much creativity you can sometimes go wrong. Just as hilarious is that the story picks up exactly where it left off.

Highlights abound, just name the scene with the hermit in his den and the humiliating farewell to Brian’s revolutionary friends at the foot of the cross. The closing song will not yet be regarded by everyone as the pinnacle of good taste in 2004, but let’s always keep the unique absurdity of Monty Python in mind: it just can’t get too serious.

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