#79 Life Of Brian
(1979, Terry Jones)
“He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”
So it’s Easter, which means it’s time to review a holiday appropriate film. Since Easter is about the death and resurrection of Jesus, it makes perfect sense to review one of the many movies about his life. Wait, don’t immediately have access to many films about Jesus, but I do have Monty Python’s Life Of Brian. Close enough, right?
Yes, this is possibly my most blasphemous review, talking about a movie parodying religion on a day that’s supposed to celebrate the sacrifice of the figurehead of the religion being parodied. Or is it? After all, Life Of Brian is about Brian, a man whose life merely mirrored the life of Jesus Christ, rather than being a parody of Jesus Christ himself. That’s OK, right?
So, the plot. Unlike other Monty Python movies, this one has a consistent one. Brian (Graham Chapman) is a man living in Judea at the time of Jesus Christ and Roman rule. Born in a manger next door to Jesus, he grows up to be a man that people follow, whether he wants them to or not. After joining the People’s Front Of Judea (or is it the Judean People’s Front?), he ends up in a series of incidents that result in him being mistaken for the messiah, amassing a large cult following.
Unlike Holy Grail, Life Of Brian is much more consistent as a movie. It no longer feels like a 90-minute sketch show and features a much more robust plot. It’s not entirely perfect, since characters are fairly undeveloped, but it’s not like anyone’s watching the movie for intense character interaction. Plus how much character development does a centurion named Biggus Dickus get?
As always, the usual Monty Python style of humour is out in full force here, jumping between the absurd and the satirical in equal measure. Satirical? Yes, of course. Banned in various countries on its original release due its supposedly blasphemous content, it’s hard to see what the fuss was about. Jesus himself rarely appears in the movie, and when he does, he’s treated with reverence. If anything’s spoofed, it’s the concept of religion itself, as the audience at the Sermon On The Mount completely misinterpret what Jesus is saying, or Brian’s misguided followers interpret even the slightest action as an act of supreme divinity.
But it also gives us political satire in the form of a resistance group that spends most of its time sitting around talking about starting a revolution before acknowledging that, really, the Romans have given us a lot. You also can’t help but feel the “Romans Go Home” scene came from at least one member of the team still being desperate to get back at Latin teachers from their schooldays. This isn’t a movie making fun of Jesus. This is a movie making fun of the society Jesus existed in, and the religion his actions went on to spawn.
As a comedy, Life Of Brian inevitably succeeds, but it also works well as a movie in its own right. Clearly working from a better budget than Holy Grail, the sets are reasonably impressive and the illusion of this being 1st century Judea is never broken (unless the Pythons want it to be). Whereas many jokes in Holy Grail were generated from a hole in the budget (the coconuts spring to mind), all the jokes in Brian feel like they were meant to be there the whole time. There’s even a battle in space that looks pretty good from a low-budget British movie perspective.
Yes, a battle in space, in the only scene that probably spoils the movie. A complete non-sequitur where Brian falls into a passing spaceship which then crash lands at the foot of the tower he fell off in the first place. It’s unnecessary, and feels like Terry Gilliam’s desire to go off and start directing weird sci-fi slipped under Terry Jones’ radar somehow. Yes, Monty Python work well with non-sequiturs most of the time, but this scene really fell flat.
Other than that though, Life Of Brian is a classic comedy movie. And forget all those complaints about it being blasphemous. It really isn’t. But reviewing it in honour of Jesus’ resurrection probably is. Oops!
Starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones & Michael Palin
Written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones & Michael Palin
Produced by John Goldstone, executive producer George Harrison
Cinematography by Peter Biziou
Edited by Julian Doyle
Favourite Scene: Do you find something funny about the name “Biggus Dickus”? You will. OH YOU WILL
Scene That Bugged Me: The aforementioned alien spacecraft scene
Watch it if: You have a sense of humour regarding religious subjects
Avoid it if: You don’t
Originally posted on Blogspot Sunday 8 April 2012 (Easter Sunday)