Essay on Life of Brian as Historical Satire

Essay on Life of Brian as Historical Satire

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Monty Python’s Life of Brian traces the tragic last year of Brian of
Nazareth, a man who shares his exact birthday and town with Jesus Christ, the
subject of countless biblical epic films. Comedy distinguishes this biopic, which
features a male actor playing the analog of the Virgin Mary, a cured leper
begging for alms, and spontaneous song on the crucifix. It is not sufficient,
however, to relegate the film to parody, which seems the obvious criticism,
simply for taking a comedic outlook. The unique style and construction of many
scenes imply that comedy partially motivated the film, but other stimuli clearly
contributed to its simple message. Closely analyzing the film’s principal utilization
of non-realistic elements and scenes reveals that The Life of Brian approaches
history artistically and satirizes religious foundations, without parodying the
classic Biblical epic style.
The film begins with operatic chanting accompanying the image as it fades
from black to the night sky, panning with a shooting star. Three shadows in the
background resemble men riding camels through the desert, bathed in moonlight.
The robed men arrive at an ancient stone town and navigate the narrow street
passages, which are sprinkled with worn tapestries and agrarian equipment.
Harps and horns underscore their slow passage through a beam of light
descending from a division between two rooftops, exposing a wandering sheep.
The men arrive at a doorway, each holding an adorned case, and watch a
mother caring for her newborn child, who stretches playfully in a manger. Their
silent entrance, so as not to disturb the child, scares the mother violently and she
falls backwards out of her chair and rolls through the dirt and straw that lin...

... middle of paper ...

... the while
confident in their historical premise: that despite ideological, cultural, political,
and religious revolution, human nature remains relatively the same. Ironically,
upon the film’s theatrical release in 1977, the same plebeians that followed the
gourd and the sandal as disciples two millennia ago showed up to protest the
satirists as blasphemers.

Sources Cited
McAlister, Melanie. “Benevolent Supremacy.” Epic Encounters: Culture, Media,
and U.S. Interests in the Middle East since 1945. Los Angeles, California:
University of California Press, 2005. 43-83.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Dir. Terry Jones. With John Cleese, Terry Gilliam,
Eric Idle, and Michael Palin. Criterion Collection DVD, 1999. 94 minutes.
Solomon, Jon. “Ancient Comedy and Satirized Ancients.” The Ancient World in
the Cinema. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. 283-305.

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