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Film: Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life arrived in 1983 as the last hurrah of the complete six-man troupe, directed by Terry Jones. The film marked the troupe's return to sketch-based comedy after two films that followed a linear plot. The film's sketches are loosely connected and arranged by the stages of human life.

The movie opens with the unrelated note  Terry Gilliam-directed short film "The Crimson Permanent Assurance", the tale of accountant pirates who take on Wall Street. From there, we move on to the film proper, a series of sketches purporting to examine the Meaning of Life, arranged from "The Miracle of Birth" to "Death". But even this structure allows for stops examining "The Third World" and "Live Organ Transplants".

This is notable as by far the grossest of the Python films, via such highlights as the aforementioned "Live Organ Transplants" sketch and the restaurant scene featuring Mr. Creosote. That didn't stop it from receiving the Grand Prize of the Jury award at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival, however.


Monty Python's The Meaning of Life provide examples of the following tropes:

  • Animated Credits Opening
  • Audience Participation: We are invited to "Find the Fish" at The Middle of the Film.
  • Back for the Finale: The "Christmas in Heaven" song.
  • Badass Grandpa: The entire "crew" of the Crimson Permanent Assurance.
  • Bad Liar / Blatant Lies: Oddly enough, the two men dressed as a tiger have difficulty convincing anyone of their various stories about a) why they're dressed as a tiger and b) why they definitely didn't steal an officer's leg and run away with it.
    Major: Right. Search the thicket.
    Man Dressed as the Front of a Tiger: Oh, come on! I mean, do we look like the sort of chaps who'd creep into a camp at night, steal into someone's tent, anaesthetise them, tissue-type them, amputate a leg and run away with it?
    Major: ... Search the thicket.
  • Bloody Hilarious: "Live Organ Transplants".
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution:
    Sergeant Major: Don't stand there gawpin'! Like you've never seen the hand of God before!
  • Book Ends: Not in the movie itself, but for Monty Python as a whole in hindsight — what turned out to be the troupe's final film ends with a TV set playing the original credits for Monty Python's Flying Circus.
  • Brick Joke:
    • The "Crimson Permanent Assurance" short.
    • The movie opens with the "Meaning of Life" song, wherein the singer goes through all the big questions about the meaning of life that humanity tends to torture itself with, rather grandiosely boasting that "tonight, for a change, it will all be made clear!" Then, after all the surreality wherein these central questions are loosely touched on at best, the movie ends with a short scene wherein the Meaning of Life is, in fact, revealed — and it turns out to be nothing that special.
  • A Bunch of Pirates 400 Years Too Late: The Crimson Permanent Assurance.
  • Corporate Warfare: The Crimson Permanent Assurance.
  • Cow Tools: The "machine that goes 'Ping.'" It supposedly tells whether the baby, during labour, is still alive, albeit without being connected to the mother. The hospital administrator and staff are very proud of it.
  • Crowd Song: "Every Sperm Is Sacred".
  • Curtain Call: In the "Christmas in Heaven" scene, most (if not all) of the characters we've seen in the film appear in the Heaven nightclub.
  • Darker and Edgier
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Parodied with the sergeant major who talks (or, rather, yells) like one, but proves remarkably lax about discipline.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: The aforementioned Tiger-suit scene.
    Major: Look, he was fast asleep, and someone, or something came in and removed it!
    Man Dressed as the Front of a Tiger: ...without waking him up!?
    Major: ...yes.
    Man Dressed as the Front of a Tiger: I don't believe you!
  • Educational Song: "The Galaxy Song" is surprisingly educational for a Monty Python film (although the science is a bit outdated; at the time the film was made the numbers used were considered fairly accurate).
  • Fanservice: The thirty-odd topless women running in slo-mo, bouncing, sweating...
    • And actually justified In-Universe, as this was a condemned man's Last Request and execution method - he was meant to run from them until he dropped dead.
  • Fat Bastard: Mr. Creosote, the rude and incredibly messy restaurant patron.
  • Fluffy Cloud Heaven: Played for Laughs, of course. Heaven is a Vegas-style lounge, complete with glib singer. Also, every day is Christmas.
  • Funny Foreigner
    • American: The exaggeratedly broad-accented couple eating dinner and their waiter in the "The Middle Age" sketch, the business executives discussing the meaning of life. Also, Howard Katzenberg, the loud, brash, pop-psychology-obsessed dinner party guest in the "Grim Reaper" sequence:
    Grim Reaper: [I have come to] take you away. That is my purpose. I am Death.
    Host: Well, that's cast rather a gloom over the whole evening, hasn't it?
    Howard: I don't see it that way, Geoff. Let me tell you what I think we're dealing with here: a potentially positive learning experience to get an—
    Grim Reaper: Shut up! Shut up, you American. You always talk, you Americans. You talk and you talk and say "let me tell you something" and "I just wanna say this". Well, you're dead now, so shut up!
    • French: The comically-accented maître d' and waiter in the "Mr. Creosote" sketch and its aftermath.
    Maître d': Anozzer bucket for monsieur... (Creosote vomits on his leg) and perhaps — a khhhhose.
  • Gainaxing: The women in the bit mentioned under How Would You Like to Die? below.
  • Greek Chorus: The fish in the tank.
  • The Grim Reaper
  • Gross Out Show
  • High-Class Glass: Livingstone (Graham Chapman), the military surgeon, uses a monocle in the Anglo-Zulu War sketch.
  • Hostile Show Takeover: The Crimson Permanent Assurance attempts to do this towards the end of the "Live Organ Transplants" chapter.
  • How Would You Like to Die?: A condemned criminal chooses to be chased off a cliff by a crowd of topless, helmeted women. Conveniently, he falls right into his coffin at the funeral already in progress.
    • What Could Have Been: According to the DVD audio commentary, this segment was a remnant of a previous draft of the film, where all of Monty Python were going to be convicted at the beginning of the film for trying to use it as a tax dodge, and each be sentenced to death in a manner of their choosing.
  • Humans Are Morons: As if the last line of "The Galaxy Song" doesn't make it clear enough:
    "Pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space, 'cause there's bugger all down here on Earth."
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: The Noel Cowardesque "Penis Song".
  • Hypocritical Humor: Graham Chapman's character is executed by being chased off a cliff by a group of topless women. His crime? "First degree making of sexist jokes in a moving picture."
    • Roman-Catholics believe that Every sperm is sacred, but see nothing wrong with selling their children to science.
  • Jabba Table Manners: Mr. Creosote
  • The Last Straw: The "wafer-thin mint" scene is the former Trope Namer.
  • Leitmotif: The evil, Jaws-style string theme that accompanies Mr. Creosote's entrance and recurs right before he explodes.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Every Sperm Is Sacred". A cheery, Ear Worm-y Crowd Song about sperm.

Welcome to "The Middle Of The Tropes!"

  • Major Injury Underreaction: A British army officer has a rather blasé attitude about waking up with a leg missing: "Stings a bit." So does the doctor examining him:
    "Yes, well, this is nothing to worry about [...] Yes, there's a lot of it about. Probably a virus. Uh, keep warm, plenty of rest, and if you're playing football or anything, try and favor the other leg."
  • Meatgrinder Surgery: Two "surgeons" forcibly harvest organs from a man just because he's got an organ donor card. Mostly offscreen but obviously Meatgrinder Surgery.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Invoked, lampshaded:
    Pakenham (Michael Palin): A tiger? In Africa?
    Ainsworth (John Cleese): Well, it probably escaped from the zoo.
    Pakenham: Well, I don't think that's very likely- (Ainsworth sshs him)
    • And ultimately subverted: It was really two guys in a tiger costume.
  • Modular Epilogue: In the video game adaptation, a series of interludes between scenes ask "moral dilemma" questions with Multiple Choice answers. At the end of the game, a woman comes on to tell you your personal, individual Meaning of Life based on your answers.
  • Nipple and Dimed/Thong of Shielding: One sketch shows a man slated for execution, who chose to be chased off a cliff to his death by a thundering horde of models wearing nothing but boxing helmets, G-string panties, socks, and football cleats. Nothing is censored, either.
  • No Intelligent Life Here: "Pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space 'cause it's bugger all down here on earth!"
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: In the Private School segment, the students chat, fiddle about, and otherwise do bored teenager stuff despite the teacher's naked wife standing in fornt of the class and the sex that follows.
  • Oh Crap:
    Fish: Oh shit, it's Mr. Creosote!
  • Only Sane Man: The Grim Reaper. It takes him several minutes to impress upon the hosts and guests of a dinner party that he's not there to trim the hedge, doesn't want wine and won't discuss philosophy with them. When they finally die and follow him to the great beyond, they decide to take their cars (their ghost cars, which, like them, leave behind the original forms), causing the Reaper to do a hilarious double-take before shrugging it off and beckoning them on.
  • The Oner: The scene with Gaston the waiter.
  • Oop North: Parodied with the portrayal of Yorkshire.
  • Organ Theft: Or at least very aggressive organ collection.
  • Prolonged Prologue: "The Crimson Permanent Assurance" goes on for 15 minutes before the actual film starts.
  • Racist Grandma: "You see I feel that life's a game, you sometimes win or lose. And though I might be down right now, at least I don't work for Jews!"
  • Rugby Is Slaughter: A boarding school holds a rugby match pitting little boys against grown men. As if that weren't brutal enough, when a boy finally gets to make a try, a teacher trips him from the sidelines. To further underline the point, the scene segues directly into a World War One segment.
  • Self-Deprecation: An Englishman's attempt to upbraid the Grim Reaper for his poor manners is met with this response:
    Grim Reaper: (poking him in the eye) Quiet! Englishmen, you're all so fucking pompous. None of you have got any balls.
    • From "Fighting Each Other":
    Narrator: Democracy and humanitarianism have always been trademarks of the British Army.
    Sergeant Major: Rubbish!
    Narrator: Shush!
  • Shout-Out: iOS' Siri will quote the ending if you ask what the meaning of life is.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: A military recruiter, after showing a war documentary, says, "That is why we will always need an army, and may God strike me down were it to be otherwise." Whereupon...
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The "Galaxy Song", a cheery, happy-go-lucky tune, with vaguely upbeat lyrics about the wondrous vastness of the universe, that ends on a big downer about the lack of intelligent life on Earth. It's sung right after a scene wherein a man has his liver harvested while he's still alive. Immediately after the song finishes, his wife agrees to undergo the process herself.
  • Stupid Boss: The hospital administrator in "The Miracle of Birth".
    Administrator: And what are you doing this morning?
    Obstetrician: It's a birth.
    Administrator: Ah. And what sort of thing is that?
    Doctor Spenser: Well, that's when we take a new baby out of a lady's tummy.
    Administrator: Wonderful what we can do nowadays!
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: The man in the front end of the tiger costume:
    "Oh come on! I mean, do we look like the sort of chaps who'd creep into a camp at night, steal into someone's tent, anaesthetise them, tissue-type them, amputate a leg and run away with it?"
  • The Unreveal: Although several theories as to the "meaning of life" are given throughout the film, when the "true" answer is finally revealed at the end it's not very life-changing. And this is only a segue into a totally unrelated and tangential joke.
  • Visual Pun: The "Middle Age" segment mostly takes place in a recreation of a Medieval dungeon.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: The Mr. Creosote scene.
  • Vulgar Humor: So, so much:
    • In "The Third World" segment, a slimy newborn baby drops like excrement out of a Yorkshire housewife while she's doing her chores, and hits the floor.
    • Young children sing, with their parents and the entire neighbourhood, about semen and masturbation.
    • A teacher and his wife having sex in front of an entire classroom, shortly after the teacher rather curtly describes foreplay.
    • The unfortunate organ donor who has his liver removed, in gory detail, while he's still alive.
    • During the "Galaxy Song", the standard cosmic grid morphs into a pregnant woman with legs spread, impregnated by a beam of light as sperm.
    • The Noel Cowardesque "Penis Song".
    • And last but certainly not least, Mr. Creosote. "Better get the bucket..."
  • Walk the Plank: The "Crimson Permanent Assurance" short.
  • While Rome Burns: Exaggerated in the "Zulu War" sketch. While British infantrymen are getting maimed and slaughtered left and right, the officers walk through the thick of battle completely unmolested and unfazed by the carnage. They even mutter curt excuse-mes as they pass by, and combatants on both sides make way for them.
  • Working Title: Monty Python's Fish Film.
  • The X of Y

Well, that's the end of the page, now here's the Meaning of Life:

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alternative title(s): Monty Pythons The Meaning Of Life; Monty Pythons Meaning Of Life; The Meaning Of Life
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