Monty Python delivers the group's sharpest and smartest satire of both religion and Hollywood's epic films. Set in 33 A.D. Judea where the exasperated Romans try to impose order, it is a time of chaos and change with no shortage of messiahs and followers willing to believe them. At it's center is Brian Cohen, born in Bethlehem in a stable next door, who, by a series of absurd circumstances is caught up in the new religion and reluctantly mistake for the promised messiah, providing ample opportunity for the entire ensemble (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin) to shine in multiple roles as they question everyone and everything from ex-lepers, Pontius Pilate and haggling to revolutionaries, crazy prophets, religious fanaticism, Roman centurions and crucifixion, forever changing our biblical view.
There is not a single joke, sight-gag or one-liner in Monty Python's Life of Brian
that will not forever burn itself into the viewer's memory as being just as funny as it is possible to be, but--extraordinarily--almost every indestructibly hilarious scene also serves a dual purpose, making this one of the most consistently sustained film satires ever made. Like all great satire, the Pythons not only attack and vilify their targets (the bigotry and hypocrisy of organised religion and politics) supremely well, they also propose an alternative: be an individual, think for yourself, don't be led by others. "You've all got to work it out for yourselves", cries Brian in a key moment. "Yes, we've all got to work it our for ourselves", the crowd reply en masse. Two thousand years later, in a world still blighted by religious zealots, Brian's is still a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Aside from being a neat spoof on the Hollywood epic, it's also almost incidentally one of the most realistic on-screen depictions of the ancient world--instead of treating their characters as posturing historical stereotypes, the Pythons realised what no sword 'n' sandal epic ever has: that people are all the same, no matter what period of history they live in. People always have and always will bicker, lie, cheat, swear, conceal cowardice with bravado (like Reg, leader of the People's Front of Judea), abuse power (like Pontius Pilate), blindly follow the latest fads and giggle at silly things ("Biggus Dickus"). In the end, Life of Brian
teaches us that the only way for a despairing individual to cope in a world of idiocy and hypocrisy is to always look on the bright side of life.
On the DVD: Life of Brian returns to Region 2 DVD in a decent widescreen anamorphic print with Dolby 5.1 sound--neither are exactly revelatory, but at least it's an improvement on the previous release, which was, shockingly, pan & scan. The 50-minute BBC documentary, "The Pythons", was filmed mainly on location in 1979 and isn't especially remarkable or insightful (a new retrospective would have been appreciated). There are trailers for this movie, as well as Holy Grail plus three other non-Python movies. There's no commentary track, sadly. --Mark Walker