Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Monty Python's Life of Brian

UK movie (1979). Hand Made. Pr John Goldstone. Exec pr George Harrison, Denis O'Brien. Dir Terry Jones. Design and animation Terry Gilliam. Screenplay Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Gilliam, Eric Idle, Jones, Michael Palin. Starring Chapman (Brian), Cleese (Reg/etc.), Gilliam (various), Idle (various), Jones (Brian's mother), Palin (Pilate/etc.), Gwen Taylor (Judith). 94 mins. Colour.

Brian Cohen, mistaken at birth by the Magi for the Messiah, grows up under the thumb of his mother. He escapes from her to join the ranks of the People's Front of Judea, carries out bungling operations for them, is seized by the Romans, escapes, is briefly carried away by a passing alien spaceship, is hailed by a credulous mob as the saviour, and is finally crucified.

Widely regarded as offensively blasphemous, MPLOB contains – beneath all the usual Python grotesqueries and surreal Humour – some sober reflection on the nature of Messiahs (are they, as it were, products of nature or nurture?), on the arbitrary invention of Rituals, selection of symbols of veneration, and accreditation of Miracles. Christ makes a brief appearance, and is not treated disrespectfully. The thrust of this fundamentally serious movie is expressed by Brian himself in a reluctant address to the multitude: "You don't need to follow me – you don't need to follow anybody. You've got to think for yourselves." Its most abiding image is of its finale, as ranked crucifixion victims sway together singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", reminding us that human viciousness is, alas, no fantasy. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.