Dir: Terry Jones, 1983
Disappointing final outing for Monty Python or misunderstood comic masterpiece?
More offensive and outrageous than anything the Python boys have done before, Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life is more fun and funnier than the more famous Monty Python’s Life Of Brian and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
The film has a basic premise; it’s the seven stages of man but told from the mentality of the Flying Circus members.
Often regarded (unfairly) as the weakest of films, The Meaning Of Life is chock full of laughs.
Returning to the sketch format that made them famous, Cleese and co. have an infinite supply of material to work with.
For me, Python has always worked better when they’re not constrained. A plot does just that.
Life Of Brian is an enormously funny film, but the recognition it has comes from the controversy the film caused.
Brian was (mostly) confined by the limits of where the plot would allow them to go. It was highly intelligent and very clever. With this, they can go wherever they want.
It’s got comedy, music, gore, sex, nudity. They can go wherever they want.
Without the limitations of a plot, there’s more scope for humour and it works better for it.
It does have it’s off key moments, though.
A particular boring sketch occurs at part IV. Titled “Middle Age”, it has Michael Palin and Eric Idle as a married couple dining at a restaurant for conversations. Yeah. It is as dull as it sounds.
But, right at the other end of the spectrum, you have “part II – Growth and Learning”. A hilarious scene set in a classroom, John Cleese is a headmaster teaching sex education to a bunch of school boys.
However, Cleese brings his wife in (Patricia Quinn from The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and performs the act of sexual intercourse live in front of them.
This bores the boys even more and they are more interested in Palin’s ocarina and passing notes.
As punishment, a giggling student is made to take in a rugby game which turns incredibly violent and hysterically funny.
You get the feeling while watching this, that the team knew this would be their last and pulled out all the stops.
And they certainly did with part VI called “The Autumn Years”.
Beginning with a brilliant song by Idle impersonating Noel Coward, The Penis Song is a solo piece of different names of penises. It’s that simple but, also, that clever.
It’s straight after that the films best scene happens.
Terry Jones is the grossly obese Mr.Creosote, dining in a posh restaurant.
Creosote orders every item on the menu….and a bucket.
I hope you have a strong stomach because things are about to get a bit “sick”.
Creosote proceeds to vomit continuously into the bucket, over the floor and even a cleaner!
You’d think that that’d be disgusting enough, but when the Python lads do something they just have to go that little bit further.
Stuffed and smothered in vomit, the maitre d’ insists on the guest enjoying a wafer thin mint.
This little mint is a morsel too much and the diners stomach explodes, showering the entire restaurant and it’s diners in vomit and entrails.
Running at, approximately, the standard length of a comedy at ninety minutes, the film is made longer by the Terry Gilliam short preceding it.
The Crimson Permanent Assurance is a seventeen minute long fantasy, typical of Gilliam’s style.
A board of accountants are attacked by other accountants where a fight ensues complete cutlasses.
Being victorious, the older accountants turn their building into a pirate ship and set sail, accompanied by another of Idle’s songs, The Accountancy Shanty.
Terry Gilliam’s work has always been a little bit hit and miss. Some things work and are amazing, others don’t go really go anywhere and become tedious. I find that this falls into the latter category.
Unfortunately, their belief of the world being round was wrong and they fall off the end.
Whereas Brian was a more solid film, Meaning Of Life does seem to be a ragbag of assortments, like rejected sketches, but it still works.
Musically, this is the most accomplished of the four Python movies.
Eric Idle is firing on all cylinders, here, with his theme song The Meaning Of Life and the splendid Galaxy Song.
But, that’s not to say that the other members are lacking. Palin and Jones’ Every Sperm Is Sacred is a fabulous and witty song about Catholicism, complete with dancing in the street and acrobatics.
Graham Chapman’s take on Tony Bennet with the song Christmas In Heaven and a bevy of beauties performing a dance number behind him can easily rival anything that Busby Berkeley could summon up.
Despite not being explicit, the British censors gave it an ’18’ on release and the same for video. Thankfully, now, they’ve seen sense and the DVD has been lowered to a ’15’.
In Ireland, it was banned outright but was eventually allowed. Brian suffered the same fate.
Don’t let the hype of the more infamous film sway you into thinking that it’s the better movie. Yes, it’s more quotable but this has so much more going for it.