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 unrelatednote 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.
This film provides examples of:
- All Men Are Perverts: The first sketch in the "Death" segment shows that if men were allowed to choose how they could die, being chased by bare-breasted women is apparently the way to go.
- Animated Credits Opening: By Terry Gilliam, of course.
- Armor-Piercing Question: When Death is telling a group of people they're dead, one of the Americans says "How can we all have died at the same time?". There's a long, silent beat as Death is seemingly stumped, until he dramatically points to a salmon mousse. Then the same American reveals that she didn't even eat the mousse right after her spirit is separated from her body.
- Audience Participation: We are invited to "Find the Fish" at The Middle of the Film.
- Back for the Finale: The "Christmas in Heaven" song.
- 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 (in Africa): 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". The entire segment is just a man having his liver hacked out of his body while he's alive and thrashing about, plus a musical number.
- 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 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.
- The "Crimson Permanent Assurance" short invades the main film.
- The hotel in the "Middle Age" chapter is revealed, in "Death", to be heaven. The American couple in the earlier segment have apparently managed to forget that they are dead.
- British Stuffiness: A huge target throughout the film, with the teacher's utterly emotionless and mundane demonstration of sex technique to his students, the soldier treating his leg being bitten off as a minor annoyance, and the dinner party host pronouncing herself "most dreadfully embarrassed" that her salmon mousse proved to be fatal.
- Chocolate Baby: Blink and you'll miss it, but one of the "Every Sperm is Sacred" children is very definitely Asian.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: One skit has a man executed by being chased through Dover and off a cliff by naked women (well, boxing helmets, thongs, kneesocks and cleats). It's mentioned that he was allowed to choose the method of his execution.
- 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".
- Cuckold: The husband in the first birth segment is believed to be one.
- 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: Though the film is still very much a comedy, it focuses a good deal more on attempting to make its viewers uncomfortable than any of the Pythons' previous work did.
- Death by Irony: Enforced. Arthur Jarrett, a man who apparently made a film so sexist it necessitated the death penalty dies by falling to his death after being chased by a bevy of near-naked women.
- Disney Villain Death: In The Crimson Permanent Assurance, two of the American executives kill themselves this way.
- 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!?
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).
- Notably, DUE to the fact the science IS outdated, The Galaxy Song is being constantly revised to try to keep to the tune while ALSO updating some of the more incorrect pieces of information, meaning that a version broadcast on a sketch show by their successor is several times more accurate than the original Python version!
- Excuse Me While I Multitask: The sex ed teacher not only instructs his class in a bored tone while fucking his wife in front of them, but has a mundane discussion about household chores to his wife as well.
- Excuse Plot: Why is the film about The Meaning Of Life? Because it was the broadest subject the Python's could come up with that would allow them to go back to random sketches.
- Fake Period Excuse: A diner, faced with the appalling prospect of having Mr. Creosote at the next table, uses the excuse of suddenly realizing she's having a really heavy period and consequently not wishing to bleed all over the carpet, as her excuse to get the hell out of the place quickly. Her husband looks noticeably uncomfortable hearing this, coming up with the much more plausible excuse that they have to catch the next train.
- Fanservice: The thirty-odd topless women running in slo-mo, bouncing, sweating, which was the condemned man's Last Request and execution method - he was meant to run from them until he dropped dead. It's meta when you learn that the crime he has been convicted of is "first-degree making of sexist jokes in a moving picture" and played by Graham Chapman.
- Fat Bastard: Mr. Creosote (Terry Jones), the rude, morbidly obese and incredibly messy restaurant patron.
- Fluffy Cloud Heaven: Played for Laughs, of course. Heaven is a garish Vegas-style resort, complete with an elaborate floor show emceed by a smarmy lounge singer. Also, it's Christmas Every Day.
- Fun with Acronyms: The renegade accountants name their ship the Crimson Permanent Assurance.
- Funny Background Event: After "Every Sperm is Sacred" is sung, and a Protestant snarks at Catholics being unable to use contraception, in the background a long, unending line of children keep marching from the Catholic home.
- Funny Foreigner:
Grim Reaper: [I have come to] take you away. That is my purpose. I am Death.
- 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:
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!
Maître d': Anozzer bucket for monsieur... (Creosote vomits on his leg) and perhaps — a khhhhose.
- French: The comically-accented maître d' and waiter in the "Mr. Creosote" sketch and its aftermath.
- Gag Boobs: Unusually, it's not because of their size. In the "Christmas in Heaven" number, all of the apparently-topless dancing girls are wearing fake plastic breasts. The plan was originally to have them be topless, but it was decided that plastic breasts would be a lot funnier. It was also out of necessity, as not all of the actresses had the same-sized breasts.
- 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: Appears near the end taking the lives away from some American and British guests.
- Gross-Out Show: Mr. Creosote barfing and exploding his intestines out. A woman leaving the restaurant with the excuse that she has her period and doesn't want to be "bleeding all over the place". Terry Jones playing a mother with many children, giving birth to one while standing in the kitchen. A man being given a live organ transplant, with all the gory body parts being cut out.
- The Hedonist: Mr Cresote's gluttony isn't just limited to food. He also downs several bottles of alcohol, despite his upset stomach.
- 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.
- 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."note
- Hurricane of Euphemisms: The 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.
- And the Protestants celebrate their access to contraception but are trapped in a Sexless Marriage anyway.
- Jabba Table Manners: Mr. Creosote, who eats a grotesque amount of food. Just one bite more makes him actually explode.
- Jobless Parent Drama: "The Miracle of Birth: Part 2: The Third World": Dad comes home to his wife and massive numbered children. He has bad news. The mill's been closed, so they're destitute. Because they're Catholics, they can't use any birth control. After singing how every sperm is sacred, he tells the kids he can't afford to feed them and keep them, so he sends them off to be sold for medical experiments.Dad: Children, I know you're trying to help, but, believe me, me mind's made up. I've given this long and careful thought. And it has to be medical experiments for the lot of you.
- The Last Straw: The "wafer-thin mint" scene, in which a diner tops off a larger meal with a small cracker, resulting in his stomach exploding Ludicrous Gibs style. It achieves Brick Joke status when the waiter eats the cracker that is now exposed in Creosote's exposed body cavity.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: "...And I'd like to sing a song for all...of you.
- Leitmotif: The evil, Jaws-style string theme that accompanies Mr. Creosote's entrance and recurs right before he explodes.
- Looping Lines: When filming the "Every Sperm is Sacred" scene, Michael Palin recited one of his lines as "at the end of my sock", which was later dubbed to the intended line of "at the end of my cock" in post-production. The scene featured numerous underage children (some of whom weren't even dressed) and the Pythons were concerned the line could land them in hot water.
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Every Sperm Is Sacred". A cheery, catchy Crowd Song about sperm.
- 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."
- Mr. Creosote is only a little inconvenienced by his stomach exploding and exposing his internal organs, which are still working.
- 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:
- Massive Numbered Siblings: The Catholic family has an absurd number of kids, because they're not allowed to use birth control.
- Maurice Chevalier Accent: John Cleese's maitre d talks with one.
- The Meaning of Life: The film says this about the meaning of life.It's nothing special. Try to be nice to people. Avoid eating fat. Read a good book now and then. Get some walking in. Try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.
- 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:
Pakenham (Michael Palin): A tiger? In Africa?
- Invoked, lampshaded:
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: 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 front 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.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: The Python's American accents are either hilariously bad or painfully bad.
- Oop North: Parodied with the portrayal of Yorkshire.
- Organ Theft: Or at least very aggressive organ collection.
- A Pirate 400 Years Too Late: The Crimson Permanent Assurance.
- Prolonged Prologue: "The Crimson Permanent Assurance" goes on for 15 minutes before the actual film starts.
- Prone to Vomiting: Mr. Creosote vomits periodically and when he eats a mint, he explodes and covers everyone in vomit.
- 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!"
- Rhetorical Question Blunder: When the Sergeant Major asks his men whether they would have better things to do than marching down the square. Turns out, one would rather spend time with his family, another one reading a book, a third one having piano lessons and every other one going to the movies. He ends up marching down the square alone.
- 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 I segment.
Grim Reaper: (poking him in the eye) Quiet! Englishmen, you're all so fucking pompous. None of you have got any balls.
- An Englishman's attempt to upbraid the Grim Reaper for his poor manners is met with this response:
Narrator: Democracy and humanitarianism have always been trademarks of the British Army.
- From "Fighting Each Other":
Sergeant Major: Rubbish!
- Sexless Marriage: The Protestants in "The Miracle of Birth".Harry Blackitt: Look at them, bloody Catholics, filling the bloody world up with bloody people they can't afford to bloody feed!
Mrs. Blackitt: What are we dear?
Harry Blackitt: Protestant, and fiercely proud of it!
Mrs. Blackitt: Hmm. Well, why do they have so many children?
Harry Blackitt: Because... every time they have sexual intercourse, they have to have a baby.
Mrs. Blackitt: But it's the same with us, Harry.
Harry Blackitt: What do you mean?
Mrs. Blackitt: Well, I mean, we've got two children, and we've had sexual intercourse twice.
- Shoo Out the Clowns: When Mr. Cresote appears, the fish all swim away in terror and are never seen again. The succeeding segment is "Death".
- Silly Prayer: In the "Part II: Growth and Learning" part, the Chaplain at a British Boy's Academy leads the student body into prayer which can only be described as mindless flattery. After the prayer is done, the Dean tells everyone not to rub linseed oil into the school's cormorant (it Makes Just as Much Sense in Context) and tells a student that their mother died before the Chaplain leads the students into a psalm begging God not to cook them all in various ways in Hell.O Lord, please don't burn us.Don't grill or toast your flock.Don't put us on the barbecueOr simmer us in stock.Don't braise or bake or boil us,Or stir-fry us in a wok.
- Skewed Priorities: The Roman Catholic parents are so vehement in the church's rejection of contraceptives that they are absolutely swarmed with children they can't afford to raise (to the point of basing a song around it), yet they see no problem with selling those children for scientific experimentation when the dad loses his job at the mill. Considering we see those children in Heaven at the end, they likely died from it.
- Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter:
- 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 Un-Reveal: 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.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight:
- "Don't just stand there gawping, like you've never seen the hand of God before!"
- The British army are pretty nonchalant about a hundred of their own men getting slaughtered by the Zulus. A high-ranking officer losing a leg is given some pause, but even then it's not considered as shocking as it would be in real life.
- The schoolboys getting bored at the sight of their teacher having sex with his hot wife counts too.
- Visual Pun: The "Middle Age" segment mostly takes place in a recreation of a Medieval dungeon.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Mr. Creosote's entire scene consists of him repeatedly projectile vomiting on everything: the floor, the waiters, the menu... Every shot of him is a vomit indiscretion shot! You can also see several restaurant patrons vomiting (and reportedly not of their own free will) as they rush out following his explosion.
- Vulgar Humor: So, so much:
Housewife: Get that for me, would you, Deidre?
- 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.
"Add more tropes"...?