(As a lead-up to Monty Python’s final concert performance on July 20, each day prior to that, I have posted a review of a Monty Python movie. Today: Python’s valedictory film.)
It’s too pretentious to regard Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life as the culmination of what is, after all, only the movie career of a mortal comedy group. And yet, with all its faults, I treasure it as their final filmic statement. It’s not without its faults, yet like The Marx Brothers, even Python’s lesser works are more ambitious than most latter-day comedians’ greatest efforts.
The movie begins with a curtain-raiser short subject, “The Crimson Permanent Assurance,” which has ‘Terry Gilliam’ written all over it. It was intended to be another sketch in the film, until it mutated into a movie of its own, at which point the Pythons passed it off as the movie’s prologue. (They make a brief reference to it later in the film.) A pirate-movie parody about some senior-citizen insurance workers who rebel against their younger superiors, it’s Pythonesque enough to be a worthy intro, though it’s more astounding than funny in its scale.
Then a bunch of fish (the Python group in elaborate costumes) introduce the main feature, followed by a great Gilliam-animated title sequence, and an even greater Part I in which Chapman and Cleese play oblivious delivery doctors. As a father of two, I can vouch for the antiseptic touch of the manic doctors who throw the new father out of the delivery room and tell the impending mother that she’s “not qualified” to participate in the delivery.
This is followed by one of Python’s peaks, an Oliver!-like sequence titled “Every Sperm Is Sacred.” It’s guaranteed to offend Catholics, pro-lifers, and most musical-number favorers, and it’s a beaut of staging. If you show this movie to a Python “virgin,” this scene is the acid test as to whether he/she will walk out or stay put.
From there, the movie goes all over the map, particularly in a restaurant sequence where Terry Jones plays the world’s most obese man, vomiting as a matter of habit. (John Cleese, at his peak, plays the obsequious waiter, all too willing to provide a bucket on demand.) The movie is the epitome of Python’s virtues (a great sequence with Chapman as a doomed man being chased by naked women) and debits (What the heck is with that prolonged tiger sequence??).
Yet when the “Flying Circus” intro plays on a wayward TV at the end, all Python fans have to feel a twinge of sorrow at the group’s demise. A few semi-reunions since movie’s end can’t dim the feeling of the end of an era, to be followed by a whole lot of dumb and dumber.