This film is not sacrilegious. This film is not about Jesus. It is about the importance of rationally thinking for oneself rather than just accepting what others say is true. It mocks group think, pokes fun at activists, and challenges people to be critical thinkers, making it very much the skeptic’s film. In fact, Pythoner John Cleese has said that a number of Christians have told him how much they enjoyed the film, because they understood that making fun of religion is not the point. Cleese has also gone on record saying that he has always thought Life of Brian would be considered the best Python film ever made, but I have to ask myself, would I say such a thing? Well, let’s analyze the story, characters, and comedy, comparing it to what has been my favorite of the Python productions, Holy Grail.
In terms of story, Brian works better. Its story has far more structure to it, and the plot is more conflict driven, with a narrative that would work well even if it was not a comedy piece. The pace is actually a little slow, but it’s still a very interesting story on the whole. The main character, Brian, has much more reality than King Arthur, making for more investment in a relatable character. This also lends itself to a great comedic situation as Brian is a voice of reason in a world of lunatics, and no one really listens to him. Also, the supporting characters are fun, will-written, and performed excellently, but this film is still not as fun or funny as I had hoped.
There was little to make me fall out of my chair laughing, but most of the movie did manage to put a smile on my face or get a chuckle out of me. Part of the problem was the culture-specific jokes throughout, such as the parody of the British political activist groups at the time, and the jokes based on the Pythoners’ mutual experience with learning Latin in school – something that is not as common in the US. In a way, the film is more of a tragicomedy than a comedy, largely because the audience cares a bit too much for Brian to be okay with his suffering (or at least I did). I tend to be very empathetic concerning movie characters I like, so I was legitimately happy when Brian was happy, but in turn, some of what he dealt with was hard to watch. Particularly the stupid people who didn’t really listen to him no matter how well he communicated – I knew I was supposed to laugh, and I suppose I did some, but I couldn’t help but empathize with his misery too much.
Comedy is a tricky thing since it requires keeping people interested in what the characters endure without letting them get too invested. So, in the end, I do not find Life of Brian to be their funniest film. I do, however, think it’s Monty Python’s most important film. I cannot help but respect this movie immensely for making a piece that helps us see why we must be critical thinkers, while making us smile at giggle at the same time. This film serves as a perfect example of how to make a message movie: its focus is on a strong character in an interesting situation; it makes it clear that this is not our world, but rather an absurd variation on our world; it is not at all preachy, but instead puts fun first; the audience is left smiling, but still thinking about the nature of humanity.
For this reason, I highly recommend the film to everyone, because in a way, it may be Monty Python’s finest achievement. (Not to mention, “Bright Side” is pretty great.)
P.S. My next movie review concerns another message movie that needed to learn a lesson or two from Life of Brian, so stay tuned . . . .