Is There Life After Monty
Python's The Meaning of Life?
STEPHEN A. ERICKSON
Questions regarding the meaning of life have haunted humanity, for these sorts of questions yield little in the way of sustainable answers. Little, that is, unless we answer them by way of belief systems that are quickly taken for granted, becoming merely conventional and soon thereafter artificial: in short, through doctrines that are seldom satisfying.
It is therefore no surprise that the script of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life proved to be enormously frustrating for the Pythons, so much so that it was their last major project together. Like religions themselves, the questions surrounding the meaning of life separated them, rather than brought them together. In the words of John Cleese, “The script lacked a central idea.”
But what would a central idea have looked like? Might it have been a specific one, like the idea that eating—or not eating—fish reveals life's meaning? And to whom? The fish? Their consumers? Not very likely in either case. Something more general then? Perhaps a vantage point from which to understand competing accounts of life's meaning? This sounds more promising, but also quite abstract and not at all comical. One doubts the Pythons would have pursued this. But we could pursue it, especially if the Pythons' failure to do so may have been part of what flawed Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. So let us look at some competing accounts of life's meaning, accompanied, naturally, by Monty Python.