Movie Review: Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983) BONUS #AtoZChallenge

Hooray for more Blogging A to Z Challenge BONUS contents! Because why settle for revisiting one Monty Python movie when you can do two, here is a companion review to my Monty Python and the Holy Grail review.

I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life
Release Date: March 31, 1983
Director: Terry Jones (with Terry Gilliam directing The Crimson Permanent Assurance short)
Production Company: Celandine Films | The Monty Python Membership

Eschewing the linear narrative format of their previous two films, Monty Python returns to the sketch comedy style of the Flying Circus, loosely linked by the theme of “the meaning of life.”  The movie begins with a separate short film about a group of elderly accountants overthrowing their young, American bosses and turning their building into a pirate ship to raid financial districts around the world (assuming that the world is round).

The main part of the film is arranged around the different stages of life, from birth to death:

  • Birth – a satire of the impersonal nature of giving birth in a big hospital with lots of fancy machinery
  • Birth (The Third World) – a satire of the Roman Catholic church’s prohibition of contraception told through song.
  • Growth and Learning – a class of boys learn sex education complete with a live demonstration from their teacher and his wife
  • Fighting Each Other – three sketches about the British military: 1. In WWI a troop of soldiers give farewell gifts to their leader as he prepares to leave the trench, 2. a drill sergeant discusses his plan for marching up and down the square, and 3. British officers in the Zulu War search for one officer’s leg, believed to have been taken by a tiger
  • The Middle of the Film – a talk show which includes a surreal game show called “Find the Fish”
  • Middle Age – an American couple dine at a restaurant in a medieval torture chamber and try to discuss philosophy
  • Live Organ Transplants – two paramedics forcefully remove the liver of a still-living donor while convincing his wife to become a donor through a song about the vastness of the universe
  • The Autumn Years – an enormously obese man vomits profusely while eating a meal in a fancy French restaurant and ultimately explodes.
  • Death – the Grim Reaper claims the souls of people at a dinner party and takes them to heaven, which is a Vegas-style resort where a Tony Bennet type performer sings about how every day in Heaven is Christmas Day.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

This was the first Monty Python production of any kind that I saw, about the age of 12 with my family on VHS.  Despite being practicing Catholics, we thought “Every Sperm is Sacred” was hilarious and immediately rewound the tape to watch it again.  We followed up by watching all of the Monty Python movies and eventually Monty Python’s Flying Circus, discovering that The Meaning of Life is actually not as funny as some of their earlier work.

What Did I Remember?:

I remember the big musical numbers, of course, and the gross-out parts.

What Did I Forget?:

I forgot that there is a lot of gratuitous nudity in this movie and casual sexism. The entire scene of topless women chasing a man off a cliff had completely slipped my mind (for good reason).  Also, I forgot about the medieval torture chamber/philosophy conversation sketch.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

This movie has some spectacular musical numbers – particularly “Every Sperm is Sacred” and “The Galaxy Song” as well as the school boys singing “Please don’t burn us.”  There’s also some clever satire of consumerism, militarism, and Americans.  I love the Python’s American accents.

I think the best parts of the movie are frontloaded, with Crimson Permanent Assurance being a classic of short film in its own right.  I’m also quite amused by the Birth sketch, “Every Sperm is Sacred” and the Protestant response, and the sex education class.  The plain weirdness of “Find the Fish” also tickles my funny bone every time.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

Most everything after “The Middle of the Film” is mildly amusing but not really all too inspired.  The gross-out humor is also (intentionally) over the top.  12-year-old me thought cutting out a liver and Mr. Creosote vomiting were hilarious, but adult me just thinks it’s cruel.  The aforementioned casual sexism – both the topless women chasing a man to death and topless angels in Heaven – have aged very poorly, if it was ever “clever” in the first place. Methinks they were trying to parody gratuitous nudity in 1980s movies but just ended offering gratuitous nudity.

Is It a Classic?:

No, but the good bits stand alongside the best work of Python.

Rating: ***

7 thoughts on “Movie Review: Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983) BONUS #AtoZChallenge

  1. This is the only Python film I haven’t seen, yet people do still talk about it. Interesting to see that you are comparing it as seen in your childhood and as an adult. It’s often the way with books and films, that you feel a bit disappointed with something you loved as a child.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The movie coming up for the letter T is a movie I loved as a child that I was seriously disappointed by how mediocre it is. But, by and large, most of these movies I haven’t watched in a long time and they’re as good as I remember.


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