A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 420 – Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Monty Python’s The Life of Brian – April 24th, 2011

Today seemed like the perfect day to watch the last of our Monty Python movies, what with that last one being a spoof on the story of Jesus and today being Easter. What can I say? We’re bad like that. But this did seem like a good match and so we saved it for today. The thing is, I have to admit, I was a little wiped out today and found myself nodding off in the middle of the movie. It’s just not my favorite Python film and wasn’t quite enough to hold my attention while I was exhausted.

Really, I feel like I’ve lost a bucket of geek points for admitting that there’s a Python movie I don’t love. It’s not that I don’t enjoy this one, honestly. It’s just not quite as engaging to me. Maybe it’s that, well, I don’t have the background to really appreciate the parody. Sure, I know the basics when it comes to Jesus and the story of his birth and death (and resurrection), but I wasn’t raised with it. The parody is funny, sure, and the writing is top-notch. But still. It just doesn’t grab me and it never has. Not in the way the other movies have.

It strikes me as a real pity that I can’t get into this movie. It really does have some fantastic classic moments and lines and the Python crew themselves have apparently stated that they felt like this was at the top of their game. It’s a sharp movie full of quick commentary not necessarily on Christianity or Judaism so much as on the world as it apparently existed and the circumstances. Brian was born in a manger a few doors down from Jesus and the movie follows his life, just as the title claims. He finds out he’s the son of a Roman soldier and joins up with the People’s Front of Judea (not the Judean People’s Front or the Popular Front of Judea – splitters!) because he hates the occupying Romans so very much. And thus begins his misadventures. After getting in trouble and escaping he unintentionally gains a number of devout followers who misinterpret everything he says as being terribly meaningful and eventually he ends up crucified.

It’s pretty snarky really, mostly about people in general and their willingness to follow. And I appreciate that. It’s both funny and painful to watch Brian tell his unwanted followers that he’s not the messiah only for them to take that as certain proof that he must be (since only the true messiah would be humble enough to not claim the role). There’s a lot of very pointed humor here, from the various rebellious factions who hold meetings to determine if they will go to rescue someone to the whole stoning scene with the man getting stoned singing ‘Jehova! Jehova!’ because how are you going to make it worse? And there’s just plain silly humor too, with the women wearing beards and the haggling and the Roman soldier correcting Brian’s Latin and making him write out the correct grammar one hundred times as graffiti. It’s a funny movie! It just loses me around the middle plot-wise.

I do appreciate that they were going with something linear here, like they did for Holy Grail. It’s a very different style from their sketch work, which I include Meaning of Life in. But it has elements of sketch comedy in it, with each scene in the linear plot acting as its own bit. Unfortunately, I happen to enjoy the sketch comedy a little more. I find it easier to move from piece to piece because if a particular bit doesn’t do it for me there’s something else coming along that might. There’s not as much shifting here. So when Brian falls off a tower and is suddenly picked up by aliens? It takes a while before the movie gets me back.

Fortunately, it is very funny in a lot of places and I do enjoy it. It might not move at the same pace as some other Python works but that’s just the way it goes. It is exceedingly clever and I have no doubt in my mind that people who know the story and time period being parodied better than I will find a lot more humor than I can. And I do enjoy the song at the end, even if after last night’s movie and Friday night’s movie I find the message to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” to be a little more painfully satirical than I have in the past.

April 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monty Python’s Life of Brian

April 24, 2011

Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Last year on Easter we watched Jesus Christ Superstar for the movie a day project. That wasn’t nearly sacrilegious for us, so tonight we move on to something a little more satirical. My opinion of this film has evolved a great deal over time. In my youth I would have claimed that it wasn’t ‘zany’ enough. I have always had a great fondness for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which in my teenaged years was right up there with Spaceballs as one of the greatest comedies ever made. Holy Grail is all madcap classic Python humor. There was a time when that kind of pure simplicity appealed to me above all else. But I’ve started to become more jaded as I head into middle age and pure wackyness doesn’t have quite the appeal it used to.

This movie is a lot more subtle and sly than other Python works. It is also the most linear in its plot – telling a clear story based around the tribulations of a single character. In that way it’s a Python movie for a more mature audience, I think, and it has slowly, over the years, risen in my esteem to be my favorite Monty Python work, and amongst my favorite comedies.

Part of the appeal is the simple narrative arc of the film. Where most Python is composed of shorter vignettes this film takes a single character, the hapless Brian of the title, and follows him exclusively as he struggles to capture the eye of a girl he is infatuated with and gets drawn into a resistance movement trying to oust the Romans from Jerusalem. All of this takes place at the same time as the events at the end of the life of Jesus, and we do see Jesus a couple times in the film, but that’s decidedly not what this movie is about. Part of what is so brilliant and subversive about this movie is that it doesn’t set out to say anything in particular about Jesus, but it instead pokes fun at the attitudes of people desperately looking for an messiah.

In some ways Brian’s life parallels that of Jesus. He is visited by three wise men when he is a baby in a manger in Nazareth (who later realize their mistake and take their gifts next door to the clearly much more divine manger there.) He is amongst the multitudes listening to the sermon on the mount (way in the back where they can’t quite hear him.) And, yes, he gets crucified in the end.

The parts of this movie I love most however are not the parts having directly to do with Jesus or even those lampooning him, but those parts having to do with the simple minded people who latch on to Brian as their messiah. There are a couple absolutely biting scenes of people following him. They argue about the significance of a dropped sandle. They take perfectly mundane happenings around him to be miracles. (“Of course they brought forth juniper berries – they’re juniper bushes!) They congregate in enormous numbers outside his home and hang on his every word – but don’t seem to listen to him at all. In my favorite part of the entire movie he tells the mob that they should learn to think for themselves. “You are all different” he says. “We ARE all different!” the crowd chants back except for one individual who says “I’m not.”

The writing throughout the movie is that kind of caliber. Every scene in here is gold from the Roman centurion who criticises Brian’s latin to the stall owner who refuses to let Brian buy a beard without haggling there are constant laughs and a very clever humor to the entire movie. This is the most irreverent, witty, and actually smart of the Monty Python films. It pokes fun at mindless obedience and dependence on others for what and how to think, which is something the world needs more of. Anything that encourages the masses to think for themselves is to be encouraged I believe.

I wouldn’t characterize this movie as sacrilegious, but then again I don’t consider myself a devoutly religious person anyhow. If I were to attempt to define my own system of belief then I’d have to say that “think for yourself” would be amongst my closely held tenets. As such I love this movie more with each viewing. A mature comedy for mature Python fans. How I wish there were more.

April 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments