Today! Because he’s not the Messiah! He’s a very naughty boy –
Life of Brian (1979)
Directed by Terry Jones
Starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Sue Jones-Davies, Kenneth Colley, Spike Milligan
For the better part of my life, I swore I was more a Life of Brian Python fan than a Holy Grail one. And maybe coincidentally (but maybe not), for the better part of this same period of time, I considered myself somewhat more religious than I do now. I mean, I’m still kinda religious, in a very basic way, but not, like, going to church on Sunday and helping them fund the lawsuits. Still, I think when you’re more ingrained in the whole God culture, Life of Brian resonates in a wholly different way. Eight years of Catholic school, folks!
Nowadays, well – not to spoil it, but Holy Grail is a good distance down the road on this list, while Life of Brian is here. Not to take anything away from this movie – it’s still hilarious – but previously I regarded this movie as a brilliant, incendiary dismantling of organized religion and their somewhat ridiculous origin stories. In watching now, it doesn’t quite hit those notes as hard for me, and in comparison to the much more quotable and iconic Holy Grail, it pales a bit as a movie. Blow-for-blow it may be funnier, and has a far more satisfying ending, but doesn’t feel quite as earth shaking as it did when I was fifteen.
But what does, anyway? Things age differently and our experiences shape our perceptions. Dull, isn’t it? This movie still features another great Graham Chapman lead – as Jesus’s birth neighbor Brian – and a multitude of terrific Python-esque performances, not the least of which is Michael Palin fantastic, speech impeded Pontius Pilate. From the terrific, Terry Gilliam-ed opening credits, backed by the James Bond-esque theme “Brian” sung by Sonia Jones, to the legendary crucifixion finale with Eric Idle’s “Bright Side of Life,” it’s one terrific comedy set piece after another. And sure, the whole “Biggus Dickus” bit is great, but my stand-out favorite has always been John Cleese’s centurion punishing and correcting Brian over his flawed Latin graffiti. “Eunt? What is eunt?” “Go.” “Conjugate the verb ‘to go’!”
And perhaps not mentioned enough is the utterly bizarre Best Faux Messiah Alien Abduction sequence, wherein Brian falls off a tower, is scooped up mid-descent by a spacecraft, which promptly gets into intergalactic distress, and crashes back to biblical Middle Eastern times, and is never referred to again. No awards given! Perhaps it was too controversial in its day? This movie, approximately two weeks older than I am, has arguably aged better, but I’ve still had a pretty good run I can’t complain much about.
Gun to my head, I would’ve said this was directed by Terry Gilliam – who will appear with some frequency in the months to come here – but no! Fellow Python Terry Jones was at the helm! No Two-Timers of any sort! Huh!