By Jared M. Gordon
Monty Python’s Life of Brian – 1979 – dir. Terry Jones
In a motion picture “destined to offend nearly two thirds of the civilized world and severely annoy the other third,” you know to expect the Pythons on top of their game. Life of Brian, being the British comedy team’s farcical view of first-century Judea, parallels the life of Brian Cohen, born in the manger next door to Jesus. Mistaken for the messiah his entire life, Brian’s trials turn a camera squarely onto the audience, examining our hero worship and dogmatic obsessions, challenging us to laugh at crucifixion. And do we ever.
No stranger to poking fun at the sacrosanct (The Meaning of Life, The Holy Grail) Monty Python’s sophomore theatrical effort incorporates plenty of the wit, sarcasm, and “filthy bastard” humor you’d expect out of six grown men known for dressing up as knights and hitting each other over the head with fish.
Indeed, the movie’s final anthem, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” can possibly be considered not only an ultimate distillation of Jesus’ teachings, but is nearly guaranteed to make you feel better after a bad day. The song as heard in the movie, incidentally, was recorded in a hotel room with mattresses propped up against the walls to dampen the sound.
It’s something close to poetry when an official warns an unruly crowd against saying “Jehovah” while invoking the name himself (and being stoned to death thereafter). Can the Pythons really be that far off from Jesus’ own stand against hypocrisy? Did countries that banned the film upon its release (such as Norway and Ireland) really miss the boat?
But we are also the ones in danger of being left onshore.
Consider that Life of Brian is a comment on sacrificing personal worth for blind obedience to artificial, mass-produced swill, be it dogmatic religion or Britney Spears. Consider the following exchange:
Brian: You don’t need to follow me! You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals!
Followers: Yes! We’re all individuals!
Brian: You’re all different!
Followers: Yes, we are all different!
Whether it’s looking down on your neighbor or clucking your tongue at the latest celebrity divorce, Life of Brian asks us to identify the false messiahs in our own lives, and to jettison them to the abyss in favor of performing personal acts of greater worth. Be your own messiah, for cryin’ out loud.
In a culture that worships celebrities and praises the passive follower as much now as it did two-thousand years ago, Life of Brian’s message is clear. It’s far easier to watch quality television such as Fox News and be told what’s important, rather than deciding for yourself, and there are some people who can never be convinced that they’re the very ones in control of their own lives.
Brian: I am not the messiah, do you understand? Honestly!
Follower: Only the true messiah denies his divinity!
Brian: What? Well what sort of chance does that give me? All right! I am the messiah!
Followers: He is! He is the messiah!
Sure, it’s safer being TOLD what matters rather than going out and suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to find out what’s really important to yourself, but look on the bright side: Monty Python already points you in the right direction.
“You come from nothing, you’re going back to nothing. What have you lost? NOTHING! C’mon, give us a grin!”