[11 February 2011]
The religious controversy surrounding the 1979 film Monty Python’s Life of Brian upon its release is well documented and almost as notorious as the film itself. Many religious groups (please see Robert Hewison’s book, Monty Python: The Case Against, for a partial list) protested the film’s depiction of Jesus of Nazareth, and the film’s defenders were quick to point out that Jesus himself is never made light of, but it is instead his followers who bear the brunt of the famous British comedy troupe’s witty social commentary. And perhaps this is where the ire of those protestors was truly raised.
Jesus only appears in one scene in the film, listing the Beatitudes chronicled in the Book of Matthew. The camera pans almost immediately back to the outer reaches of the crowd, who are frustrated with their spot away from the action. The heated “Big Nose” exchange between Michael Palin and Eric Idle is funny enough on its own, but given the background soundtrack of a man of peace attempting to instill love for one’s fellow man in the hearts of those gathered, this petty bickering is raised to monumental satirical heights. Add to that the upper-class couple, portrayed by Terence Bayler and Python mainstay Carol Cleveland, and their gross misinterpretations of the Gospel, and we see how immediately the wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount could have been lost on those present. And then, of course, the whole thing degenerates into violence.
A fistfight at the Sermon on the Mount could be considered offensive on its own, one supposes. But really the most offensive aspect of this all seems to be how plausible it is. Especially to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of human nature.
Maybe we should just go to the stoning.