Theologically offensive on almost every level, but its wildly provocative (and hilarious) scenarios have a disarming charm to them in this excellent religious satire.
Dir. Terry Jones
1979 | UK | Comedy | 94 mins | 1.85:1 | English
Banned in Singapore; R21 (passed clean) for mature themes, sexuality and nudity on Netflix
Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Plot: Born on the original Christmas in the stable next door to Jesus, Brian of Nazareth spends his life being mistaken for a messiah.
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Subject Matter: Satire/Absurd/Controversial
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed on Netflix)
Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the follow-up to the beloved Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), which is one of the greatest comedies of its time, continues the ‘Monty Python’ brand of sardonic humour whilst tackling a brand new, or perhaps more accurately, the age-old theme of religion. This time around, we are transported all the way back to Nazareth where Jesus was born.
As the title suggests, this is about the parallel fictional story of another guy, named Brian, who is born next door on the original Christmas. After a quick and efficient prologue that suggests of greater and more provocative things to come, Life of Brian follows Brian in his adult life as he joins an anti-Roman ‘terrorist’ cell, and then gets mistaken to be a messiah by an adoring public.
“Good. Out of the door, line on the left, one cross each.”
Directed by Terry Jones, and co-written and performed by his motley crew including Graham Chapman, John Cleese and Terry Gilliam, Life of Brian is theologically offensive on almost every level. It is still (ridiculously) banned in Singapore, but thanks to Netflix, this excellent and fascinating religious satire is now made accessible to mature audiences at the comfort of their home.
And for the better because firstly, this is a good example of the democratisation of access—that we must never allow ourselves to be beholden to ‘standards’ and ‘values’ of certain groups of people, be it the self-righteous elitists/authorities, or the weaklings who are easily offended.
Secondly, a work of ingenuity and provocation like this needs to be more widely seen because through satire, we can become better critical thinkers—while we enjoy a good laugh (and there are aplenty in the film), we also reflect on the sociopolitics of our time and the politics of religion.
Norway banned the film for one year for blasphemy, which led to it being marketed in Sweden as “the film that is so funny that it was banned in Norway!”
Life of Brian asks the most pertinent question of all: why do find ourselves placing so much faith in somebody or something—a political system, a religious doctrine, a deity, etc. While it doesn’t have any clear answers, it tries to show the whims and fancies of human beings jostling for power, acceptance and redemption.
And because the scenarios have a disarming charm to them, including one outlandish scene involving an alien spacecraft, Life of Brian pushes all the right provocative buttons, but is never any way intended to insult.