#171: Life of Brian (1979)

When and how did I watch this?

February 4th, 2017, on a friend’s PLEX account.

Had I seen this film already?

Nope.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

I skipped this film previously for availability reasons, and managed to find it later.  I started watching it around 3 AM while I was up with my sick daughter and ended up falling asleep, managing to see a good portion of the beginning before nodding off.

What do I know about it now?

Monty Python’s Life of Brian is another screwy satire, admittedly more cohesive than the better-known Holy Grail. I was turned on by the premise — a baby is born, first mistaken as the coming Christ. His not-so-chaste mother is played by a man dressed up as a woman, something done several times throughout the film as a farce. We fast forward to his adulthood; Jesus is beginning His Sermon on the Mount discourse, and we’re instead privy to the conversation of some irreverent onlookers, establishing a theme throughout the satire: some people are suckers that follow and listen to anything, and some are “above it”, doing as they please and thinking for themselves.  The gag goes on and off the rails; Brian, escaping the doltish Roman guards, poses as one of the street prophets in one scene, and happens to garner a huge following as folks mishear his discourse.  This is funny, and a quality dig at false teaching, mob mentality, and religion at large.  Another scene involves some Jewish resistance leaders having a meeting, wasting time discussing what a waste of time having a meeting is, poking fun at bureaucracy and union assemblies. In a bizarre scenario, Brian falls into a spaceship engaged in an interstellar battle, which I felt was a cringeworthy moment in the film. There were a handful of these odd situations that split up the narrative, perhaps trying to avoid making the film ever appear too serious or consistent at any given moment.  Just like Holy Grail, the movie never took itself seriously, all the way to the conclusion where a group of criminals awaiting their deaths on the cross close the film with a rousing chorus of “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life”, a farcical song and paradoxical in nature. The jokes and satirical message work; as a film, I found Life of Brian boring at the core, resembling a string of intelligent yet wacky SNL skits loosely tied together with a thematic undercurrent, abandoning any real attempt to make an interesting film out of it.

What are some themes in the film?

Religion, mistaken identity, hypocrisy, government

Did this affect me personally?

The movie intends to poke fun at Christianity and the veracity of the Bible, something I take seriously. I confess this rattled me a bit, but I did what I could to check myself and look at the film as objectively as possible. The final song got a good laugh and I found myself whistling it that evening and the next day.

Why is this ranked #171?

The film is satire gold, and the Monty Python label helps a lot. Many who think religion is a sham would identify with the film.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She said it made her sick to her stomach, and she was simultaneously bored.  She did fall asleep at one point.

Would I watch it again?

Nope.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

While elements of the film are delightful and snarky, it’s not really worth watching.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

For me, it hovers below the radar.  We’re talking about the greatest films ever made, but Life of Brian is hardly a film beyond the medium it uses and the fact that it has actors and a setting.  The general premise of the movie is not lost on me, but I felt that it was trying too hard to get a laugh and make statements than it was creating a memorable narrative (or anti-narrative, in this case). I’ll still rank it for its brilliance as a satire, and because Cleese and Chapman are fun to watch.

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