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