It’s been a while since I’ve last seen the Monty Python troupe. As hilarious as they may still be, after finishing all of their movies (well, almost all of them—I skipped And Now for Something Completely Different because it was a compilation of skits I had already seen before, and The Meaning of Life was probably too raunchy for me to see at the time) and Flying Circus episodes, I more or less moved on to other things. Even so, after finally watching Life of Brian again, I am fully confident in saying that it is probably their very best film (yes, even better than The Holy Grail, which I also need to check out again sometime soon).
Upon its initial release, Life of Brian stirred up some real controversy for religious blasphemy, and while you could certainly argue that for parts of it (more on that later), the film isn’t even about Jesus, who’s limited to a brief apperance during his Sermon on the Mount, in the first place. Rather, it focuses on an ordinary man named Brian who just so happens to be mistaken for him.
Even more ironically, that doesn’t even happen until more than halfway into Brian’s story. Rather, the film focuses more on parodying Roman life and politics beforehand, and it remarkably hits every single one of the targets it aims at. Whether it be stonings, haggling, incompetent independence movements, or comical totalitarian governments, the Pythons don’t hold back on anything, but have a strong enough plot to tie everything (well, almost everything—the alien scene admittedly is a bit random and unnecessary, but is easily overlooked) together.
Brian himself isn’t given too much development, but is remarkably compelling just because he can’t catch a single break in his life, no matter how hard he tries. After joining an anti-government group by the name of “People’s Front of Judea”, he gets captured by Pointus Pilate’s soldiers, and in the absurd chaos of his subsequent escape, unintentionally gets followed by hundreds of people thinking he’s the Messiah, much to his utter dismay.
At this point, a lesser film would just take crude cheap shots for the sake of being “edgy”, but The Life of Brian genuinely has something to say about blind faith, ridiculous fanaticism, and the utter loss of individuality that can come from that. Such surprising maturity is not only evident here, but also at the very end. Instead of resorting to a cheap cop-out the way The Holy Grail did, it concludes Brian’s journey in the most grim, haunting, and ironically cheery way possible. Nothing-is-sacred comedy doesn’t come much better than this.