Skip to main content

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.”


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #316: Trainspotting

In the 1990s Hollywood directors were the kings of cinema, whether it was for big summer blockbusters or smaller independent films. Guys like James Cameron or Michael Bay would blow up the screens while Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino put the emphasis on snappy dialogue that created relatable characters for the moviegoers. Then in 1996, as if to scream “we can do this too,” Danny Boyle released Trainspotting in the United Kingdom.
Based on a novel by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, the movie took the world by storm despite having no explosions, a cast of actors who were relatively unknown and a budget that today could barely pay for the catering of a Transformers movie. Furthermore this is not the story of young people going to college to enter a life full of promise, but about young heroine addicts meandering through the streets of Edinburgh. Despite introducing these characters during an energetic montage set to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #64: Oldboy

One thing I have noticed from the few Korean films I have seen so far is that Korean cinema really doesn’t hold back. One of that country’s most critically acclaimed and commercially successful movie is Oldboy (2003), which has amazing performances, beautifully choreographed fight scenes and a story filled with many twists and turns. It also has plenty of scenes that will make you squirm whether because of graphic violence, very disturbing revelation, or because you prefer your calamari fried instead of alive.
This was one of the last movies I rented from a video store in the pre-Netflix days in early 2009. By then its reputation had grown in the west especially since on top of the many awards it had won it had also earned high praise from Quentin Tarantino who knows a thing or two about violent and entertaining movies. On paper Oldboy’s plot sounds like something right up his alley: a man is seemingly wronged by an adversary and that man then seeks bloody retribution. However while T…