Monty Python Richard Schickel - Essay

Richard Schickel

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Monty Python's Life of Brian] is a send-up biblical epic recounting the biography of a chap born in the manger down the alley from the one people sing about each Christmas. Brian … is just a regular guy…. He does his best to mind his business peaceably (his only message to would-be followers is a perfectly sensible "You'll have to work things out for yourselves"), but ends up being crucified anyway. To make matters worse, one of his fellow sufferers on Golgotha is one of those awful people who grow only more cheerful as the situation becomes grimmer. He insists on leading the condemned in choruses of a Broadway-style tune, The Bright Side of Life, as they hang from their crosses.

This is an excellent example of the movie's contempt for both taste and religion. Life of Brian is even now being protested by spokesmen for various pious groups. They are quite right to do so, for this is no gentle spoof, no good-natured satire of cherished beliefs. The Pythons' assault on religion is as intense as their attack on romantic chivalry in Monty Python and the Holy Grail…. They are funny lads, but detest all formal systems of belief, all institutions,: the political left and right, popular culture, motherhood, womanhood, homosexuality, conformity and nonconformity.

The movie is occasionally undone by the Pythons's resistance to comic coherence. But such is the group's inventiveness and cheek that the audience is always confident, even when things are running a bit thin, that good stuff will be along shortly. Adolescents are flocking to Brian, as if it were another Animal House. But it is a richer, funnier, more daring film—too good to be left solely to the kids. Maybe all the earnest protests will attract those who need it most: adults who have not had their basic premises offended, and therefore have not examined them, in too long.

Richard Schickel, "Bright Side: 'Monty Python's Life of Brian'," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc. 1979), Vol. 114, No. 12, September 17, 1979, p. 101.