Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Released:  1979

Cast:  Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin

SUMMARY:  On the same night as the birth of Jesus, another boy, named Brian Cohen, is born down the street.  From the very beginning, Brian is confused with Jesus — three wise men initially visit his home, instead of the Jesus’ stable.  As an adult, Brian (Graham Chapman) lives with his mother (Terry Jones), and like most Jews in the area, hates the Romans.  One day, he and his mother listen to Jesus as he preaches (the Sermon on the Mount), and Brian first sees a woman named Judith, who is part of a radical anti-Roman group called the People’s Front of Judea.  Brian joins the group, and his first task is to deface a Roman building.  He is caught in the act by a guard, who critiques his poor Latin and forces him to rewrite the phrase 100 times on the building  Though he escapes this time, he is soon captured by the guards and brought before Pontius Pilate (Michael Palin).  However, Pilate has a speech impediment that nearly incapacitates his guards with laughter; when they are occupied, Brian makes a run for it.  He makes it out of the building, and in order to fool the guards, poses as one of the “streetcorner preachers” lining the street.  When Brian is prompted to actually say something by the crowd, he begins repeating what he had heard Jesus say.  He stops as soon as the guards pass by, but his words have made an impact on the crowd, who now decide that he is the Messiah.  They begin to follow him through town and beg for signs, miracles and more words of wisdom.  Finally, Brian manages to shake off the crowd, but finds that Judith has stayed behind.  The two go back to Brian’s mother’s house and spend the night together.  In the morning, Brian walks to the window and throws it open — completely naked — only to find that the crowd of followers has increased, and is camped outside his house.

Brian’s mother is furious and tries to convince the crowd to leave, but they refuse to go without hearing from Brian.  He obliges, and tries to convince them that they should not blindly follow every preacher that comes along, but rather think for themselves.  The crowd agrees (in unison), but stick to their belief that Brian is the Messiah.  They refuse to leave, so Brian tries to sneak out, but is captured by the Roman soldiers that are still looking for him.  He is sentenced to crucifixion for that afternoon.  Meanwhile, Pilate is speaking to an assembled crowd of Judeans, and is prepared to honor the annual custom of releasing one prisoner.  The crowd humiliates Pilate by demanding names that start with “R”, since he cannot pronounce the letter.  None of those people is actually in prison, so when Judith appears and requests that Brian be released, Pilate hurriedly agrees (after finding out that there actually is a Brian in prison).  By this time, Brian and a huge number of others have already been put up on their crosses (tied, not nailed to them).  When the guards arrive and ask for Brian, each of the men on the cross claims to be Brian, and in the end the wrong man is released.  Judith has summoned the People’s Front of Judea to rescue him, but they commend him for his decision to become a martyr instead of helping; when Judith herself comes later, she also praises this decision.  The dreaded Judean People’s Front arrives and scares off the guard, but the unit is a suicide squad, who all stab themselves in front of the crosses.  Even his mother scorns Brian’s fate.  Finally, everybody leaves, and only the men on the crosses remain.  One of the men begins to sing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, and the others eventually join in.

MY TAKE:  This is the first Monty Python movie I’ve ever seen, and while I can see how it might be controversial, it didn’t disappoint.  It’s kind of a goofy film, but it’s not stupid comedy — you can tell that there’s thought involved.  I’m a fairly religious person, but I wasn’t offended by anything.  I actually did find myself laughing (or at least snorting) on several occasions — in particular, the stoning scene at the beginning, where John Cleese is nearly apoplectic at the non-cooperative crowd, the ineptitude to the People’s Front of Judea (one of whom hides from Roman guards by standing in a corner and throwing a white sheet over himself), and the last scene, where everybody abandons Brian, then all the condemned men sing a happy song.  This last one might seem a bit sick, but somehow it’s actually funny.  I loved the “crack suicide squad” — how would you know if they’re good at suicide?  That’s like saying somebody is an ace kamikaze pilot.  I did catch the Spartacus reference, as everybody claims to be Brian:  the funny thing is that in Spartcaus, everybody’s doing it out of nobleness, trying to stick together, while in this film, everybody’s trying to sell each other out and escape.  Gotta love the guy who claims that he is Brian — and so is his wife.  I also loved the Pilate character, who was hilarious without realizing it.  he’s completely unaware of when people are mocking him, and his poor guards are rarely standing up straight, because they’re laughing so hard.  This is particularly true when he talks about his friend Biggus Dickus, and repeatedly says the man’s name in their faces.  The ending of the film is not particularly pleasant, as Brian is obviously going to die, but since everybody’s singing (and Eric Idle is making up hilarious new lyrics), it’s hard to be sad.  The only thing that bothered me for a while was Michael Palin, who played several characters, including Pilate:  I couldn’t figure out where I’d seen him before, but I knew he had a stammer in the role.  Finally, I just looked it up:  he’s the inept sidekick of Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda.

Fun fact:  Due to the nature of the story, major studio funding was withdrawn from this movie before it was made.  It was ex-Beatle George Harrison who finally stepped in and financed it, through his production company HandMade.

RATING:  Funny



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