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.