Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life

Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life

****1/2

Reviewed by: Keith Dudhnath

The Meaning Of Life is, unsurprisingly, the Monty Python chaps making jokes about the meaning of life. Through a series of vaguely connected sketches, they take us through the various stages of life: birth, learning, fighting people, middle age, live organ transplants and death.

It may have won the Jury Prize at Cannes, but this is widely regarded - including by members of the Pythons themselves - as the weakest of their movies. In terms of straight filmmaking, it's true that the lack of conventional narrative does harm it. I'm going to side with the Cannes jury and say that in terms of comedy, belly laughs and unfortunate little accidents making a mess of the sofa, the Pythons has never been better.

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And Now For Something Completely Different, their previous attempt to replicate the style of the Flying Circus television sketch show, never quite worked. The Holy Grail and Life Of Brian most certainly did. These two were Monty Python making films.

The Meaning Of Life is Monty Python in film form, at their purest and rawest. It's the culmination of everything they've learnt about comedy mixed together and poured out. It could have been an uncomfortable halfway house (and, indeed, I can understand that some people might feel that it actually is), but for me, it works perfectly.

Take a silly idea and push it and push it and push it. Take another silly idea and lay it on top of the first silly idea. Let them mix together and then push the result to the extreme. That's Monty Python.

As always, there's sublime dialogue that suggests it could be just as funny if it was read by the audience, rather than performed. As always, there are inspired performances that quickly remind you that it couldn't possibly be as funny if you weren't watching them. As always, the surreality is linked and interspersed with Terry Gilliam's even more surreal animations, that come very close to being the best thing in the film. There are instantly quotable catchphrases and incredibly catchy songs to sing along with, if you're not too busy laughing.

What more could you want? The Meaning Of Life is as entertaining the tenth time you watch it as the first.

Downsides? Yes, two. The short feature at the beginning, The Crimson Permanent Assurance, has never quite caught my imagination. It was intended to be part of the film, but as a result of what one might call Terry Gilliam's Munchausen Syndrome, it grew bigger and bigger. When he was done, it wouldn't fit and was stuck at the beginning, as a short prior to the main feature. It is too good not to be part of the film, but even when separated, it doesn't fit. If The Meaning Of Life were made in the era of DVDs, this would have been one of the finest extras you could hope to see, but as part of the film, however separate it tries to be, it feels out of place.

The second downside is one scene that just isn't funny, where a man gets to choose the manner of his death and is chased off a cliff by a horde of naked women. If the sole scene that doesn't make you laugh has lashings of gratuitous nudity, well, it's not much of a complaint, is it?

If you've not seen The Meaning Of Life, you're in for a real treat. If you have, watch it again and have the same treat you had before!

Reviewed on: 09 Aug 2004
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A sketch show on film from the makers of Life Of Brian.
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Director: Terry Jones

Writer: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin

Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin

Year: 1983

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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