We are closing out our semester here at Mount Olive and this means we are watching the final two films in our “Jesus in Contemporary Culture” course. Before the Thanksgiving break we finished watching the Monty Python classic, The Life of Brian, which may have been the most enjoyable experience of the semester for the entire class. This movie gets better every time I watch it and I also continue to see things I have failed to notice in previous viewings. As entertaining as this movie was, I think it was difficult for our students to make some of the connections intended by the Pythons. The students laughed a lot but when it came time for analysis, it took some prodding on our part to help them make the connections between Brian and Jesus. When I introduce this film in the future I will probably discuss political and religious issues in 1970s Britain insofar as that cultural backdrop informs so much of the film’s humor. (I would appreciate any insights from my UK friends on how to do this in an effective way…..)
Of particular interest to me (and to the class) in our analysis of the film and its broader cultural impact was an appearance by Michael Palin and John Cleese on the UK show, “Friday Night, Saturday Morning” in November 1979 (see video below). The two appeared opposite Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood (the then Bishop of Southwark), both of whom came across as stuffy, insulting, and condescending. (This was not lost on my students!) In the appearance, you get a very clear sense of the intelligence and thoughtfulness that attended the writing of the film. Cleese, in particular, ably articulates his frustration with the domesticated Jesus of institutional Christianity and the intellectual dishonesty to which he was exposed during his time in Christian school. Cleese also insists that Brian is not intended to be Jesus. As much as I enjoyed this interview, I chafed a little at the suggestion that Brian is not intended to be Jesus. This seems disingenuous to me. I think today most reflective viewers of the film recognize that Brian is Jesus, at least in most respects. After all, isn’t that what makes the movie work so well?