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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #203: Life of Bryan

Many filmmakers have been bold enough to make controversial movies featuring characters from the Bible: Martin Scorsese, Mel Gibson, Darren Aronofsky, and Sir Ridley Scott. However only a select few have been ballsy enough to make a mockery about biblical concepts and that select few is of course Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But to be clear, the character in Life of Brian is not the Messiah: he’s a very naughty boy.

My dad is a big fan of British comedy so as he introduced my brother and I to the Mr. Bean, Black Adder, Fawlty Towers and of course the great works of Mrs. John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, and Terry Jones. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was the first of their films we saw, which showed me this British troupe of comedians is the funniest troupe of comedians in the world. I got the DVD of Life of Bryan a few Christmases ago, and although I did not think it was as funny as Holy Grail there were still plenty of laughs, not to mention a few poignant messages about religion. Monthy Python’s least funny movie is like a lesser Rolling Stones song: it is still definitely worth adding to your collection.

The Brian of the film is Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman) who has the misfortune of being born right next to where Jesus Christ is born, leading to a bit of confusion for the Three Wise Men. The confusion continues as Brian grows up in Judea running into oddball characters such as an ex-leper, different anti-Roman factions who cannot agree on a name, and rebel Judith (Sue Jones-Davies) whom he meets during Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where the people in the back can’t hear anything.

Through a series of misunderstandings, everyone from the confused rebels to the Romans led by Pontius Pilate (Michael Palin) and Bickus Dickus (Chapman again) become convinced Brian is indeed the Messiah, despite the protests of his mother (Terry Jones) to the contrary. Brian does not want to be the Messiah either, but the Pythons suggest once a guy says something that sounds convincing enough people will follow his every words. This is indeed how cults are started. Anything unusual that happens around Brian is considered a miracle even though it is just a coincidence, and all Brian wants is to get in bed with Judith.

The movie works not just as a satire of Biblical epics, but also oddly enough as a satire of current upheavals in the Middle East. There are many anti-Roman factions in the city who spend a lot more time fighting each other than the Romans, and cannot decide whether they are the People’s Front of Judea or the Judean People’s Front. One of the groups decides to commit mass suicide as a political statement, which no matter how you frame it is a pretty ridiculous thing to do.

Between the religious and political allegories, Life of Brian was banned from theatres in certain countries decades after it was released. A strange decision for a comedy, but you know what they say: never talk in public about religion, politics, or sex. Life of Brian covers all three subjects, albeit with the Pythonesque sense of humour. This is a comedy people, lighten up.


Better yet, do what Eric Idle does during what is arguably the funniest crucifixion scene ever recorded and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”


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