Film: Monty Python's Life of Brian aka: Life Of Brian
Always look on the bright side of life!
"He's not the Messiah! He's a very naughty boy!"
Monty Python's Life of Brian is the third film by Monty Python, made in 1979. It follows the misadventures of Brian (played by Graham Chapman), who was born just down the street from Jesus Christ. Dissatisfied with his life as a Jew in Roman territory, Brian attempts to join La Résistance (though mostly because there's a very pretty girl there) and ends up fleeing from the Romans. The film is notable for being the only Python film that makes a solid attempt at a single, cohesive plotline rather than a Random Events Plot or sketches.Upon its release, this film drew a lot of controversy, mainly in the form of criticism from various religious groups and orders due to what was perceived as a disrespectful mockery of Jesus Christ (which in turn was frequently based on the erroneous belief that Brian was intended to be / actually was Jesus, rather than just someone whose life paralleled him in several ways). Rather than mocking Jesus, however, the film actually treats the source material with a lot of respect. It just points out that Christianity may have missed the point on some of what Jesus taught. It is not unheard of for the movie to be regarded as an Affectionate Parody by actual ministers.A made-for-TV comedy film, Holy Flying Circus, about the controversy surrounding the film was released on BBC 4 in 2011. Eric Idle later joined with The Meaning of Life composer John Du Prez to write an oratorio based on the film, Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy).See also Monty Python's Flying Circus.
Monty Python's Life of Brian provides examples of the following tropes:
Be Yourself: Not blindly following dogma is a theme of this film, but the Pythons were savvy enough to both recognize this could be a Lost Aesop in all the silliness, and that the trope itself is a built-in Broken Aesop. So they got around both by having a scene where Brian explicitly states the message, and people still screw the message up. At least, not blindly following dogma you made up yourself because a guy really really seems like the messiah to you.
Berserk Button: Don't refer to Mr. Bignose's... Big Nose. He was surprisingly 'patient' when it's pressed so many times, until he snaps.
Big Damn Heroes: Repeatedly subverted in the final scene, as Brian's allies show up, group by group, and do nothing whatsoever to save him.
Birthday Suit Surprise Party: Brian's girlfriend Judith Iscariot - an Expy of Mary Magdalene - tries to convince the Virgin Mandy (Brian's mum) that he is special (whilst naked, as Mandy had barged in on the two of them). It doesn't work. And earlier when after awaking, Brian opens his blinds...
Brian's mum: He's not The Messiah! He's a very naughty boy!
Comically Missing the Point: Both the aforementioned scene with people missing the message of individuality, and the scene where the centurion corrects Brian's Latin, ignoring the fact that the phrase itself is treason (and painting on a wall is vandalism, although graffiti was an accepted method of advertisement back then).
Denied Parody: The Monty Python team have always denied that the film was a parody of the Jesus story - instead it's just a story about a guy called Brian living around the same time who is mistaken for the Messiah. The parody is about the various trappings of the religion - things like emphasis on symbols and extreme sectarianism and interpretations of Jesus's teachings that completely miss the point, while the teachings themselves are left intact. They never said they weren't making fun of religion, they just said they weren't making fun of Jesus. And they weren't. At least, not more than a couple of times. ("Bloody do-gooder.") They rejected their initial concept of Brian as a forgotten disciple of Jesus because the laughs stopped dead whenever Jesus was around — none of them felt comfortable directly making jokes about him because there's nothing to really mock about the man himself.
Enforced Method Acting: When the guards hold their laughter before Pilate, in the scene where Brian is brought before him. The extras had been told not to laugh or they would be fired so Michael Palin was deliberately teasing them into trying to fight the urge to laugh (you can see their flat-out despair when trying not to).
Exact Words: How Brian's followers interpret his instructions.
Failure Is the Only Option: After Brian is crucified, just about everyone arrives to have a final word with him, never bothering to try saving him.
Fanservice: The film features a naked Graham Chapman as well as a naked Sue Jones-Davies (Judith). Amusingly, although Judith is seen for a second or two in front view, there is no risk whatsoever of the viewer actually catching a glimpse of her private parts, as she is blessed with pubic hair of heroic proportions.
Genre Deconstruction: Though it portrays Jesus in a favorable light, the movie is a pretty harsh deconstruction of society's romanticized view of life in the time of Christ, and of Biblical stories in general. As it points out, the Romans weren't just cruel oppressors with 0% Approval Rating — they did more to improve the Judean people's lives than anyone before them. Conversely, "God's chosen people" had criminal justice that could be just as brutal and unfair as the Romans', and they were never a noble La Résistance — they spent more time getting involved in petty squabbling amongst themselves than they did resisting the Romans. And in any case, having a cult of devoted followers who expect you to solve all of their problems isn't nearly as cool as you would think. And getting betrayed by your friends and "sacrificing" yourself on the cross? It's only inspiring when it's not happening to you!
Hope Spot: The ending takes sadistic delight in twisting the screw further and further for Brian. Once Brian's being crucified, one of the other victims notes that lots of people end up getting rescued, which is followed by everyone who might have a reason to rescue Brian showing up... and spectacularly failing to even try rescuing him. Still, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life...
Hypocritical Humor: A key theme of the movie is many of the hypocrisies and Double Standards present in organized religion and, in a broader context, in society at large. This being a movie by the Pythons, it becomes a rich source of humour as well.
In one specific example, the beginning of the movie features a ceremony where a man who used the Lord's name in vain is about to be stoned to death ("All I said was 'that bit of halibut is good enough for Jehovah'!"). However, except for Brian all of the people attending the stoning are women... who, in that women are not permitted to participate in the stoning, are breaking the Jewish religious law just as much as the poor sod they're about to stone to death.
Innocent Fanservice Girl: Judith, who really doesn't seem to have a problem defending a nice Jewish boy's integrity to his own mother even when she herself is stark naked and very obviously someone that the boy has recently had sex with. You do wonder what flavour of Jewish Judith herself could possibly be. (People's Front of Judea, obviously.)
Jesus Was Way Cool: The Pythons ended up deciding that Jesus was impervious to ridicule. The only joke made in his presence is about people mishearing the Sermon on the Mount, which factors into the film's lampooning of religion rather than Jesus himself.
Jewish Mother: Brian's mother, Mandy, who nags him even when he's on the cross.
Mundane Made Awesome: The theme song. Musically, it's an anthem fit for a Biblical epic, with bombastically triumphant horns and a very dramatic singer. Lyrically, it details Brian's perfectly mundane life as he matures from a perfectly mundane baby into a perfectly mundane man.
Brian The babe they called Brian. He grew... Grew, grew and grew... Grew up to be... GREW UP TO BEEEEEEEE... A boy called Brian.
The Musical: Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy), a comic oratorio written by Eric Idle and John du Prez (the same team of Spamalot). Besides many original compositions are Python mainstays "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life" and "The Lumberjack Song".
In Terry Jones' documentary series Medieval Lives, a knight's crest is made for him with the motto Messias Non Est (He's Not the Messiah).
No Celebrities Were Harmed: He really isn't the Messiah, as the Pythons were quick to point out whenever accused of mocking Jesus. Jesus appears briefly as a background character, saying exactly what he said in the Bible and not made the butt of a single joke. Now, as for making fun of Christians...
No Ending: Not that you'd really expect one from a Monty Python movie.
No Means Yes: Denying he's the Messiah just makes the believers even more certain of Brian's divinity.
The Roman centurion (played by John Cleese) has prepared a speech for Pilate to read, taking into full account his speech impediment - and then Biggus Dickus, who has a huge lisp, takes over out of the blue. The centurion actually says "Oh no!" as Dickus snatches the scroll and all but buries his face in his hands.
In as much as a Monty Python movie can be said to have a "sane" man, Brian usually fulfills this role. Of the Romans, the centurion played by John Cleese seems to be the only one with his head screwed on straight.
In the stoning scene, the two Roman guards just watch the various hypocrisies, stupidities and chaotic scenes that go on with resigned looks on their faces.
During a stoning, all the women in the group are wearing fake beards in order to participate. There's even a vendor right outside the stoning grounds openly selling these beards.
When Brian returns to the People's Front. Seriously, hiding under a rug? They do it a second time when the Romans come to search the headquarters for Brian. They then joke about it when they come back a third time, "You haven't given us time to hide!"
Pop-Cultural Osmosis: "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" has become such a popular standard that some first time viewers will laugh when the characters sing this song in the film, because they assume the Pythons are simply covering a well known song. In reality it was completely written by Python member Eric Idle.
The Prankster: The guy played by Eric Idle, titled as "Mr. Cheeky", is actually one, starting from igniting the whole "Big Nose" incident, and later dashed Brian's chance to be freed by claiming himself to be Brian for kicks.
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Pretty far on the cynical side in regards to it's portrayal of modern organized religion, Moral Guardians, and society in general. That said it's notable that the film ends with a song telling you to look on the bright side of life, even if it is a joke.
Speech Impediment: Pilate, as stated above in Elmer Fudd Syndrome. His subjects like to make fun of it by asking that he release prisoners named in such a way that would make them laugh (Roger, for instance). Biggus Dickus as well. He has Sylvester The Cat Syndrome, which causes problems when he lists the names of some of the actual prisoners (Samson the Saducee Strangler, Silas the Syrian Assassin, several seditious scribes from Caesarea...), which only makes the commoners laugh harder.
Starfish Aliens: The giant eyeball-headed ones that rescue Brian when he falls off the tower.
Stealth Joke: Possibly one when, Brian calls his father a "bastard" ... right after discovering that he, Brian, actually was one. Definitely a very stealthy one with the now-healed former leper asking for alms from Brian & his mother. The whole time the ex-leper is talking, he's skipping and hopping the entire time - a reference to a man healed in The Bible (although a cripple, not a leper) who after his healing "Went about walking and leaping".
The "crack suicide squad" attempts to save Brian from crucifixion.
Not by Brian himself, but his followers left him to die on the cross, so he could become a martyr.
Suicide Mission: Played for laughs by the "crack suicide squad". They show up at the crucifixion, their leader cries "Attack!" whereupon all of the members open a door on the chest of their armor, stab themselves and die at Brian's feet. "That showed 'em, huh?"
Threat Backfire: The centurion tries to intimidate the old man who covers for the resistance movement by bringing up crucifixion — and gets very put out when the old man doesn't seem particularly fazed at all.
Truth in Television: Roman-occupied Palestine at the time depicted really was full of small religious sects, ecstatic prophets preaching on the streets and fragmented revolutionary groups.
Unusually Uninteresting Sight: When the Big Lipped Alligator Moment during the flying saucer scene occurs, a man is watching Brian, standing nearby when the alien craft crashes. When Brian crawls out of the wreckage, he merely comments "You lucky bastard." Later, the Roman guards chasing him (that didn't fall off the tower) pass by the wreckage without batting an eye.
Unwanted False Faith: The whole point of the film is that Brian gets mistaken for a messiah very much like Jesus, in spite of his every attempt to dissuade them.
Verbal Tic: "Oh, don't worry about him sir, he's deeeaahhhh... he's deeeaahhhh..." It turns out he can speak perfectly normally, he just likes to fuck with the Romans.
We ARE Struggling Together: The Trope Namer. This is a bit of a Genius Bonus: while any Brit could see the reference to the British Left in the late '70s (which was about to get much, much worse), the truth is that the actual Judaean rebels really were incredibly divided and often couldn't get it together enough to fight the Romans.
Also a research flub as they credit the Romans with stuff they did not introduce to Judaea — wine, for instance had been around for ages (it is mentioned in the very first book of the Bible), religious purity laws covered at least some aspects of sanitation, fresh water systems and public health, and other of the mentioned items had been introduced by previous occupiers such as the Persians (famous roadbuilders) and the Greeks.
Although, given how much they've Shown Their Work, it is more likely that this was an intentional Flanderization to help prove a point to modern audiences.