Original release: August 17th, thumb 1979
Running time: 94 minutes
Director: Terry Jones
Writers: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle
Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle
Having grown up in a very Python household, Life Of Brian is a staple of my childhood. A typical Christmas will involve my immediate family surrounding the nearest television and watching one, if not two or three, Monty Python films. That’s why Life Of Brian has always felt like a Christmas film to me, despite having no real Christmas overtones other than the occasional nod to Christ in the storyline.
The charm of Life Of Brian is that it’s much less chaotic than other Monty Python films or programmes. The Meaning Of Life being at the furthest end of the scale of an utterly random and loose storyline, which jumps from sketch to sketch with the theme of the meaning of life from a literal to a more philosophical approach. A film towards the middle of this spectrum is The Holy Grail, which was random at best but more episodic, with a fairly unified story. The Holy Grail shows a rag-tag group of knights, or so they say, as they are on a journey from God in search of a sacred beacon. Whilst focusing on these characters, it still has that unpredictable Python touch, interspersed with silly animations and massive gaps in the plot.
Life Of Brian, however, closely follows the life and times of Brian, a child born on the same day as Christ; but that’s where the similarities end. Deviating only into characters that directly affect Brian, such as the Roman Guards or his hapless followers, this film is an opposite to the likes of The Meaning Of Life or And Now For Something Completely Different.
Despite having watched it over 20 times, I can’t help but find new jokes every-time I watch it. For me Life Of Brian operates on 3 levels; little jokes, religious satire and political satire. These are not mutually exclusive, quite the opposite in-fact as they all often feed into each other, but they do explain why this is a film I keep coming back to and enjoy more each time. It’s this multiplicity that makes it feel like a Christmas film, because I can watch it with my Mum or my young brother and there’s something in it for everyone.
Looking at the first layer: the little jokes have always had me in stitches. It’s just as silly in as any other Python film, from woman with beards at the stoning to the very little alien interference in the plot. There’s clearly a strong biblical theme in this film and the minor references to scripture don’t get better than the crucifixion party:
To which the criminal runs off and they have to shoulder the cross:
Having spent years learning all of these biblical stories in primary school, the jokey side to Simon of Cyrene didn’t fall on deaf ears. It was these types of jokes that appealed to me when I was younger, and what I saw my younger brother find entertaining as well. As I grew older, the wider religious satire was what I found funny, particularly the short scene where Brian preaches to a small crowd purely to avoid the police. Brian becomes an icon purely through accident as he throws out flippant comments that gain gravitas with impressionable bystanders. The gullibility of the crowd and the blind faith as they ran after Brian is funny as a joke in itself, but it sadly reflects both the ignorant masses that follow without question. This culminates in the lines:
I say you are Lord, and I should know. I’ve followed a few.
The followers of Brian have gone through this process before, he’s not their first messiah and chances are he won’t be their last. As well as this blind faith is the difficulty in interpreting a scripture that was written in a totally different context, that of over 2000 years ago. The shoe that’s discarded by Brian becomes so important to these followers and they ascribe a meaning to it that simply isn’t there:
Cast off the shoes. Follow the gourd.
Alongside both the religious satire and the little jokes is the on-going political satire, particularly represented in the people’s front of Judea. The ironically non-active activists are a consistent joke through the film as they debate, argue, vote and re-debate even the simplest motions in their organisation. Their vote to act and subsequent discussion embodies the politically aware, yet scared section of society that want to get involved but can’t bring themselves to do so. As such they just get further embroiled in talking about but not acting on their beliefs.
It’s this mixture of themes, comedy, satire and religion that makes Life Of Brian a film that has such a wide appeal. It’s why this film’s always been a family event, because there’s something in it for all of us. I’ll watch it another 20 times over the next 20 years and I’m sure I’ll find another layer in it somewhere.
Jack is an English Literature student in his early Twenties (The Golden Age!) at the University of Leeds. He insists on saying that he’s originally from Slough, Berkshire which is the setting of Ricky Gervais’ comedy series The Office – and not a day goes by that he’s not reminded of that fact… Irrespective of being mocked for it, Jack still is, and will most likely remain, a big Gervais fan.
And he sure knows how to spend his time. Having subscribed to a well known DVD delivery service for the past three years, Jack spends half of his days watching DVDs – and the other half on catch-up websites watching TV programmes.