The Life of Brian
(United Kingdom, 1979)

The moment I first saw The Life on Brian on videotape in 1985, it became my favorite of the Monty Python movies. As I have said on numerous occasions, The Holy Grail is the funniest entry into the Python trilogy, but The Life of Brian has the most substance. When I began compiling this Top 100 list in 2001, I knew that The Holy Grail and The Life of Brian would both be featured on it, and that the latter would occupy a higher position. However, after re-watching both films back-to-back, I became aware of how close they were in terms of quality and overall impact. The Life of Brian ended up closer to #1 than The Holy Grail, but only by one spot. Some die-hard Python fans will disagree with this placement, and I respect their opinion. I can't strenuously object to anyone ranking The Holy Grail above The Life of Brian, although I don't agree. What would surprise me, however, is that anyone claiming to be a Python fan might not include both films in any kind of Top 100. (Eliminating The Meaning of Life is understandable, since, by Python standards, it is an inferior movie.) In my opinion (and that's what this list is all about), The Life of Brian and The Holy Grail are two of the greatest, most inventive motion pictures ever produced.

Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The story postulates a parallel life to Jesus'. Just a few mangers away, a boy named Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman) is born. His mother, Mandy (Terry Jones), is no virgin Mary, however. That doesn't stop the Three Wise Men from delivering their gifts. However, when they recognize their mistake, they take back the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and bring the presents to Jesus. Roughly 30 years later, Brian is a typical nobody living in Palestine - until he joins the People's Front of Judea. After proving himself, Brian earns the trust of the leader, Reg (John Cleese), and is allowed to participate in an attempted kidnapping of Pontius Pilate's wife. The plot fails, but Brian, after escaping from Pilate, ends up amassing a huge following of people who believe he is the Messiah. The Romans capture him and crucify him, and, despite many opportunities, no one rescues him from the cross.

The primary target of The Life of Brian's satirical skewering is organized religion and the hypocrisy it often breeds. The film also lampoons religious fanatics who refuse to think for themselves, the bureaucracy inherent in governing bodies, and, in a more subtle sense, Hollywood biblical epics. As always, the Pythons mix smart, insightful humor with pithy dialogue and outrageous silliness. There's also a deus ex machina of the third kind, a stab at full frontal nudity equality, and the group's sole pop hit ("The Bright Side of Life"). There is little doubt that The Life of Brian represents some of the most daring and cutting edge comedy of the 1970s. It is a testimony to the force and timelessness of the material that it is as effective today as it was when it was initially released more than 20 years ago. It has been said that a Monty Python movie is only successful if it offends everyone in the audience at least once. By that measuring stick as well as nearly any other, The Life of Brian is an unqualified triumph. It makes us confront our foibles and laugh at them.

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