I know some label Monty Python’s Life of Brian offensive. I’m an Irish-Catholic journalist, so pretty much nothing on the R-rated spectrum is offensive. But on the charge of blasphemy, I’ve never seen the movie as mocking Jesus. When scene arrives where Brian accidentally loses his sandal, and the chasing crowd takes it as a sign to rip off one shoe too (or maybe follow the gourd), I always think of the time a well-educated Moonie in D.C. politics tried to explain to me why he thought Sun Myung Moon was the messiah. That scene pretty much sums up people so desperate for a messiah they can see and touch, instead of having quiet faith in that which they cannot.
Anglican Rev. Richard Burridge, dean of King’s College London and professor of biblical interpretation, told BBC Radio 4 a couple of years ago that he thought Life of Brian is actually more historically accurate than many films about Jesus in its depiction of messianic movements and factions in the first century:
“What is interesting about what Cleese says is that when they sat down to read the gospels they were struck by Jesus, his teaching, and realised that you couldn’t actually make a joke of these things which is why the accusation from Mervyn Stockwood and Malcolm Muggeridge that they were trying to use Jesus was so patently false.
“I think it is an extraordinary tribute to the life and work and teaching of Jesus – that they couldn’t actually blaspheme or make a joke out of it.
“What they did was take ordinary British people and transpose them into an historical setting and did a great satire on closed minds and people who follow blindly.
“Then you have them splitting into factions … it is a wonderful satire on the way that Jesus’s own teaching has been used to persecute others.
“They were satirising closed minds, they were satirising fundamentalism and persecution of others and at the same time saying the one person who rises above all this was Jesus, which I think is remarkable and I think that the church missed that at the time.”
But before this discussion gets as lofty as a meeting of the People’s Front of Judea, on to the clips.
1. The Stoning
Have you ever not thought about this scene when faced with a piece of halibut? It’s also mind-blowing to think that we live in a world where people are still stoned for really stupid stuff — see the ISIS penal code.
2. Pontius Pilate
All Monty Python had to do for a perfect send-up of Pilate was to turn his “r”s to “w”s and mock Roman names — and put Michael Palin in the toga. Widicuwous and so watchable.
3. You’re supposed to haggle
This is basically an instructional video for anyone traveling to a country where you’re expected to haggle.
4. The People’s Front
You wonder if the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine were in their minds when writing this scene.
5. Romans go home
A commentary that could be applied to the Internet age: if someone’s going to slam another in a tweet or on a comment board, at least use proper spelling and grammar.
6. The Sermon on the Mount
This is the only time a portrayal of Jesus appears in the film. Monty Python asks what might have happened if the people in back couldn’t hear correctly. Or if Brits were in the audience.