Classic Movie Review: Monty Python's Life of Brian
By Clint Chirpich
August 9, 2016
My education into the Monty Python universe continues. Now I've seen all their films - I found The Holy Grail to be very enjoyable, but not fantastic or anything, and hated The Meaning of Life - and a few of their specials, but Life of Brian is, by far, my favorite.
Most of my reviews don't contain spoilers, but this one does. Since it's been 37 years and it's a comedy where particular plot points aren't that important, I'm hoping that's okay. In any case, you've been warned.
Unlike their other films, Life of Brian has a rather traditional structure - the narrative runs through the entire film - and I think that immensely helps the film. It's just so much more cohesive and consistent in quality.
The plot follows Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman), a baby born on the same day as Jesus Christ - and even briefly confused for Jesus by the Three Wise Men, who are one manger away from their goal - and who grows up to be an idealistic young man in opposition to the Roman occupation of Judea. Brian eventually joins the "People's Front of Judea" in an effort to drive out the Romans but only succeeds in accidentally convincing people he's the Messiah, despite his best efforts to dissuade them.
Life of Brian contains so many hilarious moments, lines of dialogue, and sight gags that I think it'd be impossible to catch everything on just one viewing. Before writing this review I rewatched the film - for the second time in as many months - and loved it even more this time.
I'd be hard pressed to pick any one moment as my favorite, as there are just too many to choose from, but some of my favorites include almost any scene with Brian's overbearing and mouthy mother (Terry Jones, in very unconvincing drag), all of the scenes with the People's Front of Judea (led by John Cleese and Michael Palin), the ex-leper (Palin again), the stoning (featuring Cleese and John Young), the Sermon on the Mount's audience scuffle, and the evolution of a Messiah, where Brian accidentally starts his own religion. I could easily name another five or ten scenes that I adored, but I'll stop there. In fact, there's only one scene - where Brian nearly falls to his death, but lands in a passing by alien spacecraft - that I didn't enjoy. That part lasts maybe a minute or two, so for the rest of the 90 minutes, the film is practically flawless.
The main strengths of Life of Brian - like any Monty Python production - are the writing and performances. The screenplay here, written by the troupe as a whole, is filled with hilarious lines of dialogue, interesting and memorable characters, and a terrific plot that satirizes not only religious ideology but also political issues. While The Holy Grail felt like a loosely connected series of sketches, Life of Brian feels like a proper film - with a clear beginning, middle, and end - and while all of the Pythons play multiple roles, a lot of the characters reoccur throughout the whole film.