The controversy of Monty Python’s The Life of Brian has mostly passed, and that’s because the message of their film was not intended to be controversial. As John Cleese and Michael Palin say in their debate about the nature of the film, it is by no means intended to debunk Christ. It is far too tenth rate for that.
The message of the film is stated clearly and plainly by Brian as he addresses the crowd of people who are following him. You are all individuals, you are all different, figure it out for yourself, don’t just do what other people tell you to do. And that, I’d like to hope, is a message everyone can agree with.
But there is still something quite sinister that people point out. Isn’t the last scene a lampooning of the death of Christ?
For those who don’t know, this scene involves many people singing “always look on the bright side of life” as they all die together on the cross.
Whether you’re offended or not, it’s not difficult to see that people might be offended by this. Many people follow christ and adore him greatly, and it naturally wouldn’t be a pleasant feeling to make light of his death, since his death was also considered the ultimate sacrifice.
But the person who died in this scene was not Christ, it was Brian. In the film Brian is confused repeatedly for Jesus, but he is very obviously shown to not be the messiah, and to just be a normal human.
The only time Brian claims to be the messiah, is when somebody says that “only the true messiah would deny his divinity” and he said in response “Well what chance do I have then? Fine I am the messiah” – still in an attempt to convince the followers that he isn’t the messiah.
As a baby the three kings visit Brian and give him gifts, only to take them away when they find the real Jesus next door to the stable. As well as that, Brian is shown listening to the real Jesus at the sermon of the mount, meaning he can’t be Jesus.
So because Brian is obviously not supposed to be Jesus, his death is not ridiculing Christ. The only thing that can be said is ridicule of the form of death, and saying that what Jesus went through wasn’t that bad at all.
Crucifixion was commonplace back in roman times, and therefore many people went through it. Simply featuring a Crucifixion of another person should not be offensive, it’s the way that they might do it which is. To a lot of people, the fact that crucifixion was so common only made the death of Christ more significant, made him more human, and showed that he suffered in the same way that everyone else did.
Another thing that could maybe cause offence is the selection process of choosing a criminal that goes free. It’s made a subject of ridicule by the group of people as they deliberately choose names which pilot will pronounce wrong, as he pronounces the name Ross for example like Woss.
Once again I have to say that what’s so important about the death of Christ was that it was normal, and he died in the same way that other people died. He didn’t get any special treatment, so the idea that many other people could have been set free before him shouldn’t cause offence, it should be what people expect to have happened. Besides, why shouldn’t this be ridiculed? The idea of releasing one criminal just because the criminal is popular is a stupid idea.
Then we come to the final scene. Where at the last moment in everyone’s death, they all start singing “always look on the bright side of life” as they all slowly die. It can be argued as making fun of the crucifixion as if it wasn’t important.
Obviously I disagree, and that’s due to the nature of the song. If the song was different maybe I would find it quite insensitive, but not this one. Because I value the message of the song.
To me “always look on the bright side of life” is simply what the song is trying to say to you. And where is this song sung? In one of the most vile and horrible situations imaginable. To me it’s saying, even in a situation which sucks, and is as terrible as this one, try and stay positive.
In my opinion it’s not making fun of Christ’s death, but trying to tell people to celebrate life and make people try and make life positive through it.
Sure you can argue it’s insensitive, and I won’t necessarily disagree. But I ask, did you not see the hour and a half of complete nonsense beforehand, kind of trying to tell you itself not to take it too seriously?
If you follow the film without angrily comparing Brian to Jesus, then I’d like to hope you’d see the ending for what it is. A positive message about life, for the fact that they didn’t really have any other way to end the film.