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LIFE OF BRIAN, 1979
Movie Review

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LIFE OF BRIAN,   MOVIE POSTERLIFE OF BRIAN, 1979
Movie Reviews

Directed by Terry Jones
Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam
Review by Emma Hutchings


SYNOPSIS:

The Monty Python boys tell the tale of Brian, a young man from Nazareth who is mistaken for the Messiah.

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REVIEW:

Monty Python’s third big screen venture caused the most controversy on release but is now probably the most loved of their films. It centres on Brian Cohen, who is born on the same night as Jesus, in a stable just next door. In 33AD, Brian works at the coliseum selling an odd assortment of confectionary, where he sees and falls for Judith, a member of the People’s Front of Judea (not to be confused with the Judean People’s Front). He joins the revolutionary group, who plot to kidnap the wife of Pontius Pilate. This doesn’t quite go as planned, as inside Pilate’s house they clash with another group who have had the same idea and all are knocked unconscious and captured. Brian, however, manages to escape and pretends to be a preacher to evade the Roman guards. This also backfires when his audience starts to follow him, convinced he is the Messiah, despite his insistence that he isn’t. Ultimately caught by the Romans, Brian is sentenced to crucifixion. He is almost pardoned but in a Spartacus-style moment, all those being crucified claim they are Brian of Nazareth and so he doesn’t escape his fate. The film ends with a fellow sufferer leading them in a song; “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

Life of Brian has a more coherent narrative structure than The Holy Grail, moving away from Monty Python’s TV series even more. This makes it more successful filmically, though it does lack some of the comic anarchy of their earlier work. The six main cast members play over forty various characters; an amazing feat, with no confusion between them as they are all so richly and thoughtfully created. Spike Milligan was on holiday in Tunisia while the film was being shot and when the Pythons realised he was nearby they offered him a part. George Harrison, who funded the film, also has a cameo as Mr Papadopolous, “owner of the Mount”, who shakes hands with Brian and gives a very Liverpudlian “ullo” (although this had to be dubbed in later by Michael Palin).

Although now widely considered to be a work of genius (it was voted top in Channel 4(UK)‘s 50 Greatest Comedy Films), it was completely misunderstood initially and banned in many places. When Norway banned it for blasphemy, Sweden subsequently marketed it as “The film that is so funny that it was banned in Norway!” Aberystwyth in Wales finally lifted its ban in 2009. Interestingly, Aberystwyth’s newly elected mayor Sue Jones-Davies appeared in the film as Brian’s girlfriend Judith.

Those who claim it is blasphemous and parodies the life of Jesus should bother to actually watch the film, where they will find clear distinctions between Brian and Jesus. Jesus even appears in the film; he is seen giving the Sermon on the Mount, which isn’t mocked and neither are cheap shots made at what he said. Eric Idle later said: "He's not particularly funny, what he's saying isn't mockable, it's very decent stuff..." The comedy comes instead from the fact that we as the audience see it from the point of view of those at the bottom, far away, who find it difficult to hear what he says and misinterpret his teachings (“Blessed are the Cheesemakers?”)

Brian is an unwilling Messiah; he has no desire to be revered, he just wants to be left alone. He attracts followers who convince themselves he is the saviour. They misunderstand him and misinterpret what he says to them. The film’s main target for satirical comedy is not religion, but religious fanaticism. It picks fun at those who show blind allegiance to one figure and don’t think for themselves. One of the lines I enjoy, which illustrates this, occurs after Brian shouts: “I am NOT the Messiah!”A member of the crowd, played by John Cleese, says: “I say you are Lord, and I should know, I’ve followed a few.”

Also, most of the humourous scenes in the film have nothing to do with religion. The man who refuses to sell any of his wares unless people haggle with him, Pontius Pilate and his good friend Biggus Dickus, the Ex-Leper, the women who must disguise themselves as men to attend a stoning, Reg: “All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

It’s a brilliantly funny film and a great achievement for the Pythons. There are some who believe people born after 1970 don’t ‘get’ Monty Python. Well I was born in 1986 and I love them. Their humour may not be to everyone’s tastes but you will find it hard to watch this film without finding something to laugh out loud at. Life of Brian has stood the test of time and remains relevant and funny today.

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