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Life of Brian’s Controversiality is a Record of Societal Change

Monty Python’s Life of Brian, released in 1979 remains controversial till date. Even though the reasons have changed, people get offended by the jokes in the film. The entire review comes down to answering the question- why is it still considered a relevant movie?

Bhavya Vemulapalli

Monty Python’s Life of Brian, released in 1979, remains controversial. Who is Brian, and why would a film about his life be controversial? Brian is Brian of Nazareth, an ordinary boy-next-door, born where BC ends and AD begins, and the year Jesus of Nazareth was born.

What makes this boy’s life special is that he is born literally next door to Jesus of Nazareth himself, and on the same day as him. This is alternate “history” as fertile ground for satire. Brian is mistaken to be the messiah by anti-Roman rebels instead of Jesus. Now it’s easier to see why the film is controversial.

Satire on religion and faith is always tricky. But Monty Python’s hands are crafty enough to make it not only work but work wonders.

Monty Python comedy troupe and their particular mix of postmodern meta-narratives, absurdity and political satire challenged English history and its imperialism in a rather obvious manner, ironically, still in a British way. The genre, referred to as “Pythonesque” (a comedy noted especially for its absurdist or surrealist humour), influenced such works as Rick and Morty, Deadpool and South Park.

It was re-released last year with a 12A rating, after decades of controversy. Originally it had a higher AA rating. In many theaters it had an X rating; in some, it was even banned. But the revised 12A rating is easier on “infrequent strong language, moderate sex references, nudity, and comic violence” (The BBFC).

More than the movie’s take against authoritarianism and Romans, it still gets flak because of Church’s complaint, that Brian was Jesus and thus the film was, what it is; sacrilegious or even blasphemous. The irony is, the movie makes references to the absurdity of blasphemy as crime, while it gets criticized for being blasphemous!

But today, the film might offend the new generation viewers for various reasons. Be it around the issues of gender, class, and disability references than speaking against authority in the first place.

Criticized or loved for various reasons, the movie release was no less than a miracle. For example, Two days before the cast and crew were set to leave for Tunisia to begin shooting, the head manager at EMI Films, Bernard Delfont, cancelled the financing, fearing the film was too controversial to make a profit! But guess what, Pythons’ patron turned out to be George Harrison (lead guitarist of the Beatles), a big Monty Python fan, helped them out, maybe only to make Bernard Delfont regret his choice after seeing all those profits.

The entire review comes down to answering the fact of, why is it still a relevant movie? Michael Palin, actor and writer simply says, “We made it 40 years ago, but it is so applicable to our world now. Which either says the world never really changes, or it just gets more absurd.”

More than being “politically correct”, identifying the difference between comedy vs blasphemy, one can start with the film’s most remembered line; courtesy of Brian’s mother, Mandy (Terry Jones). “He’s not the Messiah”, she tells everyone, “he’s a very naughty boy.”

Edited by Sanchit Pradhan and Aviva Baig