I’m taking a bit of a break from watching Criterion films I’ve not seen before and doing a little catch-up by writing reviews for films I’d seen before I decided to work on this list. Appropriately, Monty Python’s Life of Brian starts off this pseudo-sabbatical. Like most geeks, I’ve been a Python fan since early high school, and I’ve seen this film on the order of a dozen times or so. It has always been my second favorite after The Holy Grail, but I’ll readily admit that it is their best cinematic work. In addition to the tautness of the film the satire and social critique is multi-layered and still meaningful to this day.
The large number of terrorist/resistance organizations emphasize and reilluminate the fact that Middle-Eastern strife has been a constant for thousands of years. By pointing this out in comedic terms, the idiocy of such violence is underscored. There is anger and frustration hidden behind the comedy as well; much of it seemingly derived from the general ignorance and sheep-like quality of humans en masse. Here too, the Pythons can preach without being preachy, and show time and again how people take lessons from the Bible and twist them to their own ends. We see that everyone has an ulterior motive, although they might be blind to it themselves. Extremism is the target here, whether from an aggravatingly politically correct democratic terrorist group or from the speech and mercy impedimented Roman tyranny.
Yet there is also compassion and love in the comedy. Jesus is never a target and because of this it is possible to recognize the Python’s own recognition that sheep need a shepherd, someone as genuine as a Jesus or Brian. There is just the right blend of ham and gravitas in the Python’s treatment of the Jews [that joke is probably in bad taste] to know that struggles against oppression are respected. In fact, the silliness serves as a kind of anthem to those who think that comedy is a lesser art than drama or that it cannot tell as important a tale. If anything, I think it is probably even more difficult. Life of Brian manages it with ease.