A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

December 26, 2010

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life

This movie is very ‘R’ rated. That was my immediate reaction to it when I finally did see it. I did NOT see this in the theater when it came out due to my being only eleven years old, although I do remember one of my classmates before school describing the movie – and all the bare breasts that it contains. His perception of the movie was somewhat skewed, I think, by that distraction, and I can kind of understand. I mean how is a fifth grader supposed to react to a movie with the ”Every Sperm is Sacred” song in it? I was mortified when I eventually saw the movie with my parents at the age of sixteen or so.

This is a strangely paced film, even for a Python film. Unlike the television show the other Python films are more plot driven. The Holy Grail and Life of Brian both follow a smaller collection of characters through a single film length narrative. This movie on the other hand does not attempt to disguise the fact that it is much more a collection of individual skits. In most cases they don’t even have clever links, a Python trademark, to blend from one to the next. Instead they have title cards that introduce them each. There is some blending of one bit to others and characters that appear in the background of other sketches. It’s subtle though and I didn’t pick up on it the first time I viewed this. About the only thing I did notice was that characters from every sketch in the film show up in the final number, which is appropriate.

Over the years I have come to quite like this movie. It has a lot of classic moments, great sketches and a bunch of fantastic songs which I absolutely love. I would NOT recommend that your first viewing be with a parent, though. The irreverent tone of this film thumbs its nose at notions of taste and propriety and while they are often very funny they can also leave the audience feeling somewhat uncomfortable. Who wants to see the sexual education sketch with their father? Nobody, that’s who.

If this movie has a unifying theme it is not the supposed search throughout the movie for the meaning of life – it is lamenting the plight of being British. Now I can understand this in a kind of outsider looking in way, but it does somewhat alienate me. The boys poke fun at British boarding schools. They mock the British officer class in three different time periods. Death – the grim reaper himself – at one point accuses the British of not having any balls. I guess the Pythons are attempting to say something more serious and lean away from their usual madcap zany antics, but they’re writing mostly from what they know which makes me feel somewhat out of touch with some of the sketches. Oh, I get the jokes, but I’m not as much a part of them.

The other striking thing about this movie is how much of a budgetary upgrade it must have been. The sketches are much more elaborately staged, with big sets, complex costumes and one enormous musical number with a cast of hundreds. It’s a far cry from just the six of them (and Carol) on a sound stage with a laugh track. The Crimson Permanent Assurance very much feels like a dry run for Brazil, with all its miniature effects shots and the sense of bureaucracy being overthrown by whimsy. Terry Gilliam is listed as the animation director in the credits, implying that he has a whole team of animators working under him – and indeed the animation in this movie is a pretty big cut above the usual Python cut-outs. Somebody handed an awful lot of money to a group of guys who were used to producing comedy on a BBC budget, and it’s a strange sort of adventure to see what they decided to do with it.

I’m glad that I’ve overcome my initial squeamishness about this movie. It has so much that makes me laugh that it would be a pity if I had let my tender sensibilities cause me not to like it. How can I help but love the Universe song or Christmas in Heaven? Even the revolting Mr. Creosote is funny in the end. I love anything that gives a big raspberry to organized religion and things like the sycophantic school prayer tickle my fancy. This is a strange sort of swan song for a strange sort of comic troupe, and in a way it is fitting that their last outing should end on such a high note. It also ties in to our last week of movie reviews. “Every single day is Christmas day.”

December 26, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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