Movie rewind: Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 October, 2012, 3:27pm

Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin
Director: Terry Jones

Along with politics and sex, religion makes up the trifecta of taboo subjects: the three things you don't talk about in polite society, let alone lampoon before millions on the big screen. Just look at the recent international uproar over that Islam-slurring film to see the possible consequences.

But the Monty Python boys weren't exactly the types to follow societal decorum. After years of embracing the Swinging Sixties mentality by sending up their country's stiff upper-lipped politicians and fast-changing attitudes towards sex, there was just one topic left for the troupe.

In that regard, Monty Python's Life of Brian gets a bad rap among religious types. While there's no doubt the tale of a man mistaken for the messiah firmly and fastidiously skewers beliefs of all kinds - with a particular focus on Christianity - it does so tastefully.

Similar to their Arthurian-legend satire Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the film's basic concept of a man mistaken for the son of God was just a launching pad for the Pythons' surrealist humour. But unlike that previous effort, this was a turning point for the sketch group, the moment their films evolved from skits crammed together into a carefully constructed story while retaining the humour.

From Brian's birth a few doors down from Jesus ("Led by a star? Led by a bottle, more like") to his hatred for Romans as a young man ("I'm not a Roman, I'm a Red Sea pedestrian!") and eventual crucifixion for his actions, we're given a hilarious Christ-like progression of the makings of a whiny saviour.

And in between, the Pythons use the framework to send up all aspects of religion, from blessed cheese-makers to Biggus Dickus, haggling street sellers to grammar-obsessed Roman guards. It's easy to attack religion, but instead of taking a sledgehammer to the subject, the Oxford- and Cambridge-educated Pythons preferred a subtler touch by going for the crux of the matter: that all organised religions are based on blind faith, leading to the loss of individualism.

In that sense, Life of Brian's moral is as important as its madcap humour, summed up perfectly in its closing minutes. Because despite the crusaders and fundamentalists, despite suicide bombers and fatwas, every religion's core context can be broken down into one simple philosophy: always look on the bright side of life.