‘Life of Brian’ forty years on

Life of Brian

Too Right
A regular column by John Black
The Black Sheep Blog

Monty Python?s Life of Brian, that classic, scabrous machine gunning of Christian piety has turned 40 years old. In the spirit of Easter, Event Cinemas Queen St scheduled a screening on Holy Thursday night. There was (to my knowledge) not one single complaint.

I decided to go along to see if it still holds up. It is hard to describe the impact this movie had on me when I first saw it aged 14. Raised in a mass attending, fish-on-a-Friday, Virgin Mary revering Catholic home, to see that same Virgin Mary played by a middle-aged man in drag (Terry Jones) was as shocking as it was hilarious. Or hilarious because it was shocking. At the time of its release, there were serious efforts to ban the film as blasphemous, successfully so in Ireland and Norway. The Pythons used this to their advantage, “So funny it was banned in Norway” was included in advertising ? in Sweden).

But having long ago thrown away my Catholic Church membership card, and professing Christians in the general population having declined to the same numbers as model train enthusiasts or square dancing aficionados, I wondered if it would retain its capacity to shock.

The answer turned out to be yes, but not in the way I first presumed.

Life of Brian, is, once the religious stuff is out of the way, a conservative film. At the time of its release the Pythons took great pains to point out that the movie was a satire on the Christian religion as it is practiced not on belief in the Christian God. Technically it is therefore heretical (being at odds with established authority) not blasphemous (mocking or attacking God or belief in God). Brian you will remember is constantly mistaken for Jesus (they were first going to call the film ?The thirteenth Apostle? after abandoning a more blasphemous take -?Jesus Christ, Lust for Glory!?)

However in its depiction of humanity as overwhelmingly, squalid, petty and stupid, it chimes with what many conservatives believe. True, most humour is based on human shortcomings but have any comics been quite as merciless as the Pythons? Minutes into the film, a violent argument erupts over someone calling someone else ?big nose?. In fact their characters argue over everything, political affiliation (the Judean People?s Front), religious belief, miracles (?Alms for an ex-leper?) and the merits of crucifixion as punishment (?Crucifixion?s a doddle?)

Although they attack authority figures, the python ?philosophy? is more anarchic or perhaps libertarian than anything left wing. Nobody knows anything in their world. Therefore, as Brian says in his speech to the multitude who turn up at his door seeking guidance ?You?ve got to work it out for yourselves!?

Even so, they are no revolutionaries. Their barbs and absurd set pieces constantly back up the status quo. Roman Colonialism is defended (What have the Romans ever done for us?) and lefty political activists lampooned as fractious idiots (?Splitters!). The Romans are continually exasperated at the unruly, stupid Israelites they rule over, one character even asks ?Who else could keep order in a place like this??

But it is the jokes about things now socially taboo that gives the film a new unintended shock value.

There were two moments where the cinema audience?s constant laughter dried up to a trickle. Loretta the confused political activist wanting to be a woman (?I want to have babies?) and the cretinous, stuttering jailers. The first is a masterful evisceration of the whole Trans issue, the second, humour at the expense of physical oddity. Transphobia and Ableism in today?s terms. The audience, cowed by progressive orthodoxy, caught themselves laughing and stopped.

Except for your noble correspondent. I laughed all the harder. But part of what amused me was the thought of having to run a joke by your own internal humour gestapo before allowing yourself to laugh. The Poor bastards.

The Pythons, in mocking everyone from the clergy to the meanest beggar, regardless of thoughts of ?fairness? or ?punching up?, tell a truth that is conservative, even Christian : Life is tough and humanity, all humanity, is deeply flawed.

A truth currently out of fashion.

As I walked out of the cinema whistling ?Always Look on the Bright Side of Life? a thought occurred. Hollywood loves a sequel. Why not ?Life of Abdul?? The story of a poor Arabian goat herder constantly mistaken for?

As I said, this movie of Christian heresy was shown in the holiest week of the Christian calendar without complaint.

Imagine what would happen with that sequel?