Monty Python’s The Life of Brian from 1979 is described as a religious satire comedy which is a genre no one had ever heard of and many now would not be brave enough to touch even now, not even Seth Rogen’s ‘blue humour’ could come close.
At the time The Life of Brian was untouchable. Its script was unlike anything else seen before, begun in the mid 1970s in Barbados by the Monty Python team with the aim of producing a critique of the interpretations of Jesus by Hollywood and the New Testament.
Days before production was due to begin in Tunisia EMI Films pulled their funding, after Bernard Delfont and others at the company finally read the script. At the last minute a new production came in to save the film, created for the film by George Harrison of The Beatles in what the Python’s later called the “most expensive cinema ticket in history”. Later in the film Harrison has a bit part in the film as owner of the Mount Mr Papadopoulos with a distinct scouse ‘ullo’.
…the film ends with, and not to spoil the end, a crucifixion but it is not dark…
Brian, played by Graham Chapman after he sobered up, is one of cinemas greatest heroes. His life is a commentary on the period in which Christianity was first founded and the vast wealth of stories about Jesus, especially those in the New Testament that are harder to explain. Throughout his life he is mistaken for Jesus; as his mother, Terry Jones, sums it up, “he’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”. This leads to a hilarious run of events as despite Brian’s efforts he accidentally leads a religious movement of several thousand after trying to escape Roman Centurions.
It is not a film deriding Christianity, but the extremes of religion and is praised by some members of the Christian Church for its well researched and respectful depiction of 1st Century Judea whilst criticising the inaccuracies of the church. The Pythons admit it is heresy but deny it is blasphemous as it attacks the dogma and interpretations of religion, when Jesus is depicted at the start it is respectful.
Furthermore, its satire reaches far beyond religion and looks at the political atmosphere of the British left in the 1970s through the terrorist organisations looking to overthrow the Roman Empire’s evil. One iconic scene reflects the lefts indecision and divisions when the People’s Front of Judea asks “what have the Romans have ever done for us?”.
If you watch this film this Easter you will definitely enjoy it, the comedy is brilliantly crafted but it is at times close to the bone. Fortunately, some of the darker scenes were edited out of the film and are infamously known as the ‘Lost Scenes’, one such scene including the c-word and another a very dark scene about zionism (the characters from which make up the Judean People’s Front who appear at the end in a ‘special’ squad). This helps keep the film comical and intelligent, not dark.
Yet the film ends with, and not to spoil the end, a crucifixion but it is not dark, in fact it is lighthearted and is one of cinemas most iconic scenes and original songs. Watch it this Easter Sunday and you will find that the final message of this film, “look on the bright side of life”, is surprisingly poignant given the world’s current sad state.
Just be sure not to take The Life of Brian it to your local church anytime soon unless you are brave…
By Arran Byers