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'Monty Python's: The Meaning of Life' (1983): A Review

It took God six days to create the earth, and Monty Python just 90 minutes to screw it up.
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Monty Python


The comedic sensibilities of Monty Python’s Flying Circus are an acquired taste, blending high-brow wit with low-brow surrealism in order to create a chaotic slew of comedic gems. The tropes’ last feature film together, ‘Monty Python’s: The Meaning of Life’ (1983), differs from their previous (and utterly hilarious) efforts, ‘The Holy Grail’ (1975) and ‘The Life of Brian’ (1979), in that ‘The Meaning of Life’ eschews the use of a semi-coherent plot and instead replaces it with a series of sketches that all center around a general theme – in this particular case, the theme is (obviously) the ‘meaning of life’.

Helmed by Python member Terry Jones, who directed most of the either Python’s films, the various sketches and episodes featured in ‘The Meaning of Life’ are a great introduction to those who have made the mistake of going their whole lives without ever seeing the trope’s original show or subsequent films, displaying their typical comedic sensibilities through a wide range of skits, non-sequiturs, and musical numbers.

The inclusion of musical numbers is perhaps the most notable feature of the Pythons’ ‘Meaning of Life’. Although Eric Idle (the trope’s resident music man) has performed and written a number of songs for the Pythons before ‘Meaning of Life’, few of their earlier work included so many of them as their last feature film. And while most of the film’s musical numbers might not be ‘laugh out hilarious’, Idle’s performance of ‘The Galaxy Song’ and Michael Palin’s rendition of ‘Every Sperm is Sacred’ are quite stirring and hilarious, not to mention well-written musical numbers in and of themselves.

Other memorable sketches include a pair of doctors (played by John Cleese and Graham Chapman) who attempt to impress a hospital administrator with a series of expensive and ludicrous machines, all the while ignoring a woman giving birth; an utterly surreal encounter with a drag-queen and a long-armed man asking the audience to “find the fish”; and the Grim Reaper paying a visit to a country house where a group of dinner guests argue with him during the course of a meal.

Probably the most notorious sketches to be included in the film is the “Mr. Creosote” sketch near the third act of the movie: Terry Jones, playing an obnoxious and overweight diner at a posh restaurant, proceeds to consume an inordinate amount of food, all the while insulting an unflappable waiter (portrayed by Cleese, a master at remaining utterly straight-faced no matter how ridiculous the situation) and vomiting into a number of buckets. The conclusion of the sketch – without spoiling it – is easily one of the most over-the-top examples of “gross out” humor ever caught on film (seriously, do not watch the sketch after eating yourself—you’ll regret it).

However, while Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life’ is certainly a great microcosm of their unique brand of comedy, it is far from being their best work. Most of the sketches are quite brilliant and funny, though the film does tend to muddle during the middle portion of the film, in particular during the film’s series of “war-related” sketches which are, although full of Pythonesque humor, not the most memorable portions of the film.

Another misfire in the Python’s film is the inclusion of a “second” film, entitled ‘The Crimson Permanent Assurance’ and directed by Terry Gilliam, about a group of elderly office clerks who usurp an office building and then sail it through the city like a pirate ship before they attempt to literally take over the main-film sequence. Although the sheer ridiculousness of the idea makes for a chuckle, the length of ‘The Crimson Permanent Assurance’ makes it more of a distraction than an inclusion, and takes the surrealism of ‘The Meaning of Life’ just a bit too far over the edge to be enjoyable.

Though by no means their best or most memorable work, Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life’ is still a wonderful comedy for those who prefer bizarre and sardonic humor over the more mainstream comedies of Hollywood, and is certainly worth a glance for those looking for “something completely different”.

Find the nearest Blockbuster (assuming they still exist) near your home so you can rent this film almost immediately. Or, if you prefer that movies came to you instead, set up a Netflix account and start your ordering as soon as possible.

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