Film: Monty Python's 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
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:
- Accidental Hero: Brian
- Acoustic License: Averted.
Did he say "Blessed are the cheesemakers"?
- Age Progression Song: "Brian, the babe they called Brian..."
- Always Chaotic Evil:
- The Judean People's Front, for reasons unknown.
- Also, the head of the People's Front of Judea would believe the Romans are.
- Animated Credits Opening
- The Anti-Nihilist: "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" expresses this view: life is horrible and meaningless, but despite this, we should try and enjoy it as long as we're here.
Life's a piece of shit
When you look at it
Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true.
You'll see it's all a show
Keep 'em laughing as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
Who is this "Wodewick" you speak of? Man:
He's a "wobber"! Other man:
And a "wapist"!! Woman: And a pickpocket!
- Away In A Manger: Brian is born at the same time as Jesus, in the manger next door.
- Been There, Shaped History: Brian's life intersects with Jesus and he keeps getting mistaken for the Messiah.
- 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!
- Blind Obedience: Lampshaded by a crowd who eagerly parrots a speech against eagerly parroting points of view and ideas.
- Blinding Bangs: One of Brian's "acolytes", in the Sermon from the Window scene.
- Butt Monkey: Brian himself. He gets chased by Roman guards, taken to space by aliens, gets abandoned by his loved ones and dies via crucifixion.
- The Call Has Bad Reception: From his followers' perspective.
- Camp Gay: Pontius Pilate, and his "vewwy good fwiend" Biggus Dickus.
- Canis Latinicus:
- Naughtius Maximus, Biggus Dickus, Incontinentia Buttocks. (The combination "ck" cannot occur in Latin. It should be Biggus Diccus and Incontinentia Buttox.)
- Lampshaded in the scene where a centurion catches Brian writing "Romanes eunt domus" on a wall and upbraids him for his poor grasp of Latin and forces him to correct his mistakes.
- Cannot Spit It Out: The stuttering prison guard and his Cloudcuckoolander assistant, when the Centurion tries to free Brian. Poor Communication Kills, unfortunately... Although this later turns out to be Obfuscating Disability.
- The Cat Came Back: Brian's followers.
- Chekhov's Army: Subverted with the Judean People's Front in the final scene. After many hushed references to them by the other Judean resistance groups, they charge into the crucifixion site at the end, leaving the Roman soldiers fleeing in terror... then promptly kill themselves en masse, revealing that they're actually the JPF's "crack suicide squad".
- 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). Even funnier is that the guard let Brian off after he covered the entire building he was tagging with the phrase, now written correctly.
- Corpsing: In one of the most memorable scenes of the film, Pilate speaks of his friend Biggus Dickus, as the guards desperately (and ultimately vainly) attempt to keep a straight face. In reality, the extras cast as the guards were told that it was a serious scene, and if they so much as giggled, they would be fired on the spot. Hilarity ensues.
- Country Matters: Reg would've used the word had the censors not demanded he say "klutz" instead. The page features the full uncensored quote.
- Cyclops: The aliens have one eye on a stalk.
- Deadpan Snarker: Mandy, Reg, Brian, Mr. Cheeky, Mr. Big Nose, The Old Man at the Stoning, Ben, The Ex-Leper... It's basically a World of Snark.
- 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.
- Derailed for Details: Brian's attempt to tell the Parable of the Talents.
- Deus ex Machina: Parodied. A low flying UFO passed by just when Brian is about to fall to his death.
- Diabolus Ex Machina: The ending, from Brian's perspective.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The crowd starts arguing about whether the sign is the shoe or the gourd mirror the ridiculousness of sectarian disputes.
- Double Take: The two aliens inside the spaceship do a double-take at the sight of Brian. More exactly, their eyestalks do a double-take.
- Downer Ending: A very rare comedic example: "Cheer up, Brian. You know what they say: some things in life are bad..." Pretty much subverted by being a very cheery downer ending.
- Do Wrong, Right: The above-mentioned scene with the centurion making Brian change his (treasonous) graffiti to be correct Latin.
- Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Pontius Pilate. It was actually considered sophisticated to have a speech impediment back then. They did their research. So it's even applying Deliberate Values Dissonance to make it funny.
- 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.
- Flanderization: Pontius Pilate is High Camp? Who knew?
- Flock of Wolves: The women who dress up as men to go to the stoning. Plus the fact that all the actors playing those women were in fact, men. So you have men pretending to be women pretending to be men.
- Full-Frontal Assault: Brian and Judith.
- 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!
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The graffiti scene is an in-show example. Brian is quickly caught by a centurion, but he cares more about the graffiti's bad grammar than the treasonous message it conveyed.
Brian: (after spending the rest of the night painting "ROMANI ITE DOMUM" all over the building) Finished!
Centurion: Right. Now don't do it again. (walks off)
- Girls with Moustaches: Some women unconvincingly disguise themselves as men, complete with big bushy beards, in order to attend a stoning.
- Graffiti of the Resistance: The graffiti against the Roman occupation; one Roman soldier is more disturbed by the bad grammar than the content of the message.
- Grammar Nazi: The graffiti scene.
- 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.
- In another part, Brian defends his Jewish pride...by describing himself with every Jewish slur imaginable.
- I Am Spartacus: Direct Shout-Out, subverted. "I'm Brian! And so's my wife!"
- "I Know What We Can Do" Cut: The kidnapping plan.
- 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.)
- Irony: Everyone declares themselves an individual in as much of a hive-minded crowd can... and the one individual who blurts out that he's not.
- It's a Small World After All: The alien spacecraft lands right at the foot of the tower Brian fell off of, despite leaving the planet.
- 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.
- Jews Love to Argue: From the sectarian infighting to a vendor getting offended that Brian "doesn't wanna' haggle".
- Just in Time
- Subverted, when the Legionary commander arrives at the prison with orders to release Brian, it turns out they've already left.
- And again when the Crack Suicide Squad arrives to free Brian.
- La Résistance: The several groups to free Judea from the Romans, and how they suck at it.
- Large Ham:
- "We're the People's Front of Judea! Judean People's Front..." Played with, making fun of a man for forming the Popular Front.
- Also, the priest at the stoning.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" compares death to the end of a production from the actors' perspective. It's played at the end of the film.
- Towards the end of the song, it becomes Breaking the Fourth Wall, as Eric Idle engages in a peculiar monologue. Among other things, he states that "this record's available in the foyer".
- Literal Metaphor: The Suicide Squad.
- Logic Bomb: The single man in the crowd that claims he isn't an individual.
- Male Frontal Nudity: Brian. Wonder if that scene inspired Eric Idle to write that famous song in the Python's next movie?
- Messianic Archetype: Discussed.
- Misaimed Fandom: Pretty much the message of the entire film. People obeying someone they mistake for the Messiah and misinterpreting everything he does or says.
- Misplaced Wildlife: Ocelots, jaguars, Swedes, the Welsh.
- Missed the Call: The Three Wise Men visit Brian's house first by mistake while Following a Star. They have to take their gifts back from Brian's quarrelsome mother.
- Mistaken for Profound: People thinking Brian is the Messiah.
- Mistaken for Special Guest: Brian's whole life, particularly after he decides to pretend to be a prophet in the town square.
- Mr. Seahorse: Discussed. "It's every man's right to have babies if he wants them."
- Moral Guardians: The natural enemy of the Python.
- Morton's Fork: Doesn't matter what Brian says, the crowd will believe he's the Messiah.
Brian: I'm not the Messiah! Will you please listen? I am not the Messiah, do you understand? Honestly!
Girl: Only the true Messiah denies His divinity.
Brian: What? Well, what sort of chance does that give me? All right! I am the Messiah!
Followers: He is! He is the Messiah!
- 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).
- Never Say That Again: Jehovah!
- 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.
- "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization
Brian: You mean you were... raped?!
Brian's mother: Well, at first, yes.
- Now Buy The Merchandise: During the fade-out of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, the Cheeky Man notes: "Incidentally this record is available in the foyer".
- Obfuscating Insanity: The two guards in charge of the prisoners for crucifixion. Although technically, only one of them is pretending to be insane-the other has a phony speech impediment:
Centurion: Have they gone?
Insane Jailer: *beat* We've got lumps of it round the back.
Speech Impaired Jailer: Don't worry about him, he's mmm... he's mmm... *stomps* he's mad sir.
Centurion: Have they gone? *gestures to indicate the prisoners*
Speech Impaired Jailer: Oh yeah, ah nahh, nnnn, nnnn, nnn... *both jailers make peculiar measuring gestures*
Centurion: Oh, come on! *leaves in disgust*
Speech Impaired Jailer: ...nnn ....yes, sir *beat* Anyway, go on with the story.
Insane Jailer: *in completely normal voice* Well, I knew she never really fancied him...
- Occupiers out of Our Country: They only want the cruel but effective Romans to go home.
- Oh, Crap: One of the guards' face screams of this when Pilate tells that Biggus Dickus "has a wife, you know". The actors playing the guards were specifically told not to laugh, so the reaction is most likely a real one.
- 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.
- Only Sane Man:
- 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.
- Open the Door and See All the People: With Male Frontal Nudity, no less.
- Paper-Thin Disguise
- 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.
"Bloody Romans, can't take a joke."
- Precision Crash: While being chased by Romans, Brian falls off of a tall building and into the cockpit of a passing alien spacecraft. It goes into space and has a dogfight with another ship. The other ship hits it, and it crash lands right back in Jerusalem at the feet of a local who had seen it pass by in the first place.
- Precision F-Strike:
Alright, I am
the Messiah! Worshipers:
HE IS! He is the Messiah! Brian:
Now...fuck off! Worshiper: [Beat]
How shall we fuck off, O Lord?
- Lampshaded by Cleese in the DVD commentary.
- Punny Name: Played with.
- The lead Centurion naturally assumes that the name of Brian's father, "Naughtius Maximus", is a joke name, like "Sillius Soddus" or "Biggus Dickus".
- The Judean People's Front has a suicide squad. Their mission: commit suicide.
- The Queen's Latin: British accents for everybody in ancient Judea. Since almost every character is from Monty Python, this was a natural occurrence.
- Raging Stiffie: Brian has got one when he is at the window naked. Mind you, he just woke up.
- Recursive Crossdressing: The stoning, in which the Pythons were men playing women pretending to be men.
- Renegade Splinter Faction: The Judean People's Front is plagued by these.
- Right on Queue: "...Out of the door, line on the left, one cross each..."
- Shown Their Work: They managed to get a lot of historical details right in the film, not surprising since a historian (Terry Jones) directed it. For instance, Brian being the bastard son of a Roman soldier in fact mirrors an ancient anti-Christian claim about Jesus, as found in the writings of Celsus and others.
- When it comes to the controversy about the film, it rapidly becomes clear that the Pythons know what they're talking about a lot more than the Moral Guardians do.
- Shout-Out: The title theme is quite similar to the one for Goldfinger.
- 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.
- Son of a Whore: Brian.
- Sorry Stan, But You Just Don't Have a Womb: "Where's the fetus going to gestate? You gonna keep it in a box!?"
- Soundtrack Dissonance: "Always look on the bright side of life!"
- Space Battle: During the spaceship scene.
- 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 and 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".
- Stop Worshipping Me: Brian is continually Mistaken for the Messiah.
- Stupid Sacrifice:
- 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.
- Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: In "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life":
Some things in life are bad,
They can really make you mad.
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle,
Don't grumble; give a whistle,
And this'll help things turn out for the best.
- 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.
- What Have You Done for Me Lately?: "All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"
"Oh, peace...shut up!"
- 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 road builders) 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.
- Whoopi Epiphany Speech: Subverted repeatedly.
- With Us or Against Us: The resistance groups spend more time fighting each other than fighting the Romans. Brian even calls them out on it.
Brian: We should unite against our common enemy!
Others: The Judean People's Front?
Brian: No! The Romans!
- You Make Me Sic: The graffiti correction scene.
Centurion: "Romanes eunt domus? 'People called Romanes, they go the 'ouse?!'"
And... Always look on the bright side of death! Just before you draw your terminal breath!