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Monty Python's Life of Brian
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Monty Python's Life of Brian

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About the group
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Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Life of Brian
The Meaning of Life
Life of Brian is a film from 1979 by Monty Python which deals with the life of Brian (played by Graham Chapman), a young man born at the nearly the same time as, and in a manger right down the street from Jesus Christ.

Table of contents
1 Synopsis
2 Blasphemous?
3 Re-releases
4 Spin-offs
5 External links


Life of Brian is essentially a classic farce and is eloquently summed up by Brian's mother (played by Terry Jones) saying, "He's not the messiah; he's a very naughty boy." This notwithstanding, the film is variously seen as a stunning critique of organised and popular religion as a racket involving hypocrisy and religious zealots, a sacrilegious film "deserving censorship," or just a very funny movie.

It also pokes fun at leftist grouplets of the 1970s by featuring several factions that are nominally protesting against the Roman occupation of Judea, but are in fact more at loggerheads with one another (examples include 'The Judean People's Front', 'The People's Front of Judea' and (with only one member) 'The Popular Front of Judea').

The film contains all members of Monty Python in multiple roles, and also features cameos by Spike Milligan (who happened to be on holiday in Tunisia where the filming was taking place) and George Harrison (without whom the film would not have been made - since Harrison set up Handmade Films to help fund it after the subject matter scared off the original backers).


The film initially attracted some complaints about Michael Palin and Graham Chapman's portrayals of characters with speech impediments, but Mr Palin insisted that this was solely for humorous purposes. Indeed, his father had a lisp, and he himself gives his name to 'The Michael Palin Centre', which offers "specialist assessment and therapy service in stammering." However, what caused most contention was the film's supposed blasphemous content - which was itself sent up in a 'Stoning' sketch which hinges on the crime of blasphemy.

Protests against the film were organised based on its perceived blasphemy, not least because the film ends with a comical song sung by the victims of a mass crucifixion ("Always Look on The Bright Side of Life", not "Always Look on the Bright Side of Death", as is sometimes stated, although this phrase also occurs in the lyrics). Ironically, this song was later re-released with great success, after being sung by football fans! Far from being blasphemous, a vast number of people see it as quite an accurate summation of life, and indeed, optimism.

On its initial UK release the film was banned by some town councils. This proved rather pointless, since people who wanted to see the film merely went to places where it wasn't banned. The film was also banned for eight years in the Republic of Ireland and for a year in Norway (it was marketed in Sweden as "the movie that is so funny it was banned in Norway!"). The film was not released in Italy until 1990, eleven years after it was made.

Accusations of blasphemous ideas also centred on an off-the-cuff comment by Eric Idle who, asked about the name of the Pythons' forthcoming feature, replied "Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory". It has been variously reported, however, that this idea was merely one of a number abandoned at an early brain-storming stage, mainly when it became clear that a parody of Jesus' life just wouldn't work. The focus shifted to a separate individual born at a similar time (a fact lost on many protesters, who didn't realise Jesus appeared separately), and a legend was born. When Jesus does appear in the film (as he does on two occasions--in the stable, and speaking the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-48)) he is played completely genuinely. The comedy only begins when members of the crowd mishear his statement "Blessed are the Peacemakers..." The separate appearance of Jesus Christ, and the relatively widespread use of crucifixion in Roman times remove any serious accusation that Brian is supposed to actually be Christ.

Mary Whitehouse and other campaigners launched waves of leaflets and picketing at and around cinemas that showed the film, ironically boosting the publicity. Leaflets suggesting that the Wise Men wouldn't have approached the wrong stable (as they do in the opening of the film), and other such sentiments are ably documented in the book Monty Python: The Case Against (ISBN 0413486605). Two members of Monty Python also engaged in a debate over the film, which reputedly turned into more of an attack on it than a reasoned debate. (This was then itself sent up in the classic Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch Life of Python.)

The central tenet of the film can be summed up as 'individual humanism', as demonstrated in this excerpt:

Brian (to adoring crowd): You've got to think for yourself! You're all individuals!
Crowd (in unison): Yes, we're all individuals!
Brian (to adoring crowd): You're all different!
Crowd (in unison): Yes, we're all different!
Single voice (from within the crowd): I'm not.

For their part, the Pythons contend on the DVD commentary that the film is heretical because it lampoons the practices of modern organized religion, but does not blasphemously lampoon the God that Christians worship.


On 24 March 2004, CNN reported that the film distributor Rainbow Film Company would be issuing a re-release (marketed as a "Second Coming") of Life of Brian on April 30, 2004 in Los Angeles and New York before expanding to other cities across the USA through May 2004. This was variously reported to be a direct result of the release of Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ or the 25th anniversary of the original theatrical release.


Spin-offs include a script-book The Life of Brian of Nazareth, which is backed by the aptly named MONTYPYTHONSCRAPBOOK... (The printing of this book also caused problems, since there are technical laws against what can and cannot be written about religion—the publisher refused to print both halves of the book, and original prints are printed by two companies).

An audio recording of 'Life Of Brian' has been released on the Disky label. As usual for Monty Python releases when it ties in with films, they add extra jokes. The track list is as follows:

 1. Introduction
 2. Brian Song (0:19)
 3. The Wise Men At The manger
 4. Brian Song (Continued)
 5. Sermon On The Mount (Big Nose)
 6. Stone Salesman
 7. Stoning
 8. Ex-Leper (Nortius Maximus)
 9. You Mean You Were Raped?
10. Revolutionaries In The Ampitheatre (loretta)
11. Romans Go home
12. What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us ?
13. Ben
14. Brian Before Pilate (Throw Him To The Floor)
15. Prophets
16. Beard Salesman
17. Brian's Prophecy
18. The Hermit
19. He's Not The Messiah
20. He's A Very naughty Boy
21. Pilate Sentences Brian
22. Nisus Wettus
23. Pilate With The Crowd (Welease Wodger)
24. Nisus Wettus With The Gaolers
25. Release Brian
26. Not So Bad Once You're Up
27. Revs Salute Brian
28. Cheeky Is Released
29. Mandy To Her Son
30. Look On The Bright Side Of Life (All Things Dull And Ugly)

External links