Life of Brian

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #61: Monty Python’s Life of Brian.


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.


Criterion Essay by George Perry.
• A com­plete script of the film and oth­er re­sources.
The Criterion Contraption Review.