Ever mindful of festive tradition, I watched my DVD of Monty Python’s Life of Brian on Christmas Day. This is a deeply felt, profoundly moving and utterly nonsensical film about the life of Brian Cohen, a contemporary of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures tell us naught about Brian, and even today (with so much thoughtful Christ-related revisionism doing the rounds thanks to Dan Brown and his apostles) regrettably little is known of him, which makes the Python film a valuable reference source.
Brian could have been a neat role model for all of us Salieris who must live in the shadow of someone else who’s much better at something we love doing. Except that Brian doesn’t really want to be a Messiah, or a martyr, or a poor man’s Jesus, it just happens that way. From the very beginning, his life parallels that of Christ; in fact, he’s born just a couple of mangers away. ("What IS myrrh anyway" his shrill, cantankerous mother – played by, of all people, the hook-nosed Terry Jones - asks the Three Wise Men when they mistakenly give her the gifts they arrive bearing.)
The film moves on good-naturedly to tackle issues like infighting (the People’s Front of Judea is perpetually at odds with the Judean People’s Front); the occasional misguidedness of Good Deeds (an "ex-leper" complains that Jesus spoilt his begging prospects by curing him); the importance of haggling; and even the Larger Picture (in a bizarre two-minute interlude where Brian is carried away in an alien spaceship). A tragic scene near the end teaches us important lessons about the futility of being a suicide squad when you’re armed only with knives. There are many soul-stirring lines like "Can’t make head or tail of this sermon, let’s go for a stoning" and others that might have sent Groucho Marx scurrying to the nearest church for benediction.
One has to be in a certain mood to enjoy this film, though I’m not sure I want to define that mood. It’s loud, ribald and certainly offensive in bits, though not as much as you might think. (I couldn’t help thinking of the bloodshed that would take place across India if a film of this tone were to be made with a story from Hindu mythology as the target.)
Also, the Cockney accents are sometimes hard to follow – but this is more than compensated for by "Bright Side of Life", the hilarious song that brings the movie to its incongruously cheerful end (it’s sung by a group of men up on crosses and includes lines like "For life is quite absurd/And death's the final word./ You must always face the curtain with a bow./ Forget about your sin./ Give the audience a grin. /Enjoy it. It's your last chance, anyhow.")
Put this on your post-Christmas shopping list. It should soon be available on a DVD double-bill with The Passion of the Christ.