Monty Python's Life of Brian and
The Last Temptation of Christ
Monty Python's Life of Brian, 1 a 1979 British production directed by Terry Jones, has the dubious privilege of being the only Jesus-film in the key of satirical comedy. A cinema spin-off from the hugely successful British television series, Monty Python "Flying Circus", Life of Brian is clearly within the "firm tradition of British humor . . . which depends on the juxtaposition of the unexpected with the ordinary," 2 a brand of humor which does not easily translate into other languages and cultures, wherein lies one of the major reasons for the film's limited success.
Life of Brian, the group's "most sustained [cinema] effort to date," 3 was radically different from the television series. This difference was judged positively by some critics, who for example note that, compared to the fragmented, gag-after-gag, style of their television show and previous films, " Life of Brian adopted a refreshingly coherent plot structure." 4 It is precisely this coherent plot structure that was criticized by others: "The Life of Brian is far less funny than a Monty Python television show . . . the plot line forces a linear and ev0en logical approach on performers whose genius always lay in the lack of such a next-step approach." 5
Given what was popularly rumored to be the theme of the film, a Monty Python version of the life of Christ, it is not surprising that things did not go smoothly with the financing and production of the film. Early on, the producers, EMI, got nervous with the protests regarding the film, and with the excuse of the costs becoming excessive, canceled their participation. To the rescue came a friend of several of the Monty Python crew, the ex-Beatle George Harrison who, together with a banker friend, put the necessary funding together, and the work got underway. Because of its structural weaknesses, the finished film had only minor critical success and because of the limited appeal of the Monty Python style of humor, it had only limited international distribution. For example, it was never released in Italy. 6
The producers need hardly have worried, for Life of Brian is "patently . . . not an attack on Christianity," 7 and in fact it is not even a film about Jesus. In ninety minutes of running time, the only visual references to Jesus are a brief shot of a crib at Bethlehem at the beginning of the film, in the most tacky Christmas postcard style, complete with glowing babe and singing choirs of angels, and a couple of distant shots of him during the Sermon on Mount,