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  • The Meaning of Life
    • The Meaning of Life
    • Runtime:107 min
    • Release Date:2014-11-01 12:33:12
    • Director: Terry Jones
    • Genres: Comedy, Fantasy, Musical
    • Studio:
MOVIE REVIEW:The Meaning of Life
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Sorry Pythons, it just didn't work out for me this time. And don't
assume I don't know how to appreciate British humour. On the contrary,
it's my favourite kind. From Blackadder to The Vicar of Dibley to
Catherine Tate, even the Python sketches or the classic Holy Grail, and
the list goes on… But The Meaning of Life was just disappointing.

Simply put, there is no coherent plot. As for the title itself, it's
handily summarised by a line ("It's nothing very special" a lady says)
in the very last scene (the rest of the film is totally unrelated) that
ironically makes a whole lot of sense: "Try and be nice to people,
avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking
in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all
creeds and nations." What were they trying to achieve? A compilation of
sketches doesn't quite work, as evidenced by this film. It ranges from
the mildly humorous ('Every Sperm Is Sacred' is a well-known classic)
to the downright absurd and disgusting (An obese man vomiting multiple
times and eventually blowing up in a restaurant? Stand By Me's vomit
scene was by far superior).

But then again, that's what the Pythons are infamous for – to stupefy,
to bewilder, to disgust, to shock. On that note, it worked. It's just
unfortunate I couldn't derive any enjoyable entertainment from it.

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*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life never quite reaches the heights of
its superior stable mate The Life Of Brian, but is another riotous romp
through bad taste and jaw dropping humour by the team. This film
resembles much more the original TV sketch shows, and, like its small
screen origins, is very much hit and miss. As with all the old Python
sketches, some are tiresome and slow, but it is the stunning brilliance
of any given sketch that can hit you at any time that lifts this movie
well beyond the mundane. I vividly recall watching this as a schoolboy
and thinking it was one of the best movies ever made. Given another
viewing as a (hopefully) maturer adult, it falls a lot more flat than I
first remembered. Indeed, in some places it looks like patched up
Python, made up of stuff originally on the cutting room floor. However,
the saving grace of the film are the strongest points that hit between
the eyes: the uproariously funny 'Every Sperm Is Sacred' song and of
course the infamous Mr Creosote restaurant sketch, which is perhaps the
best remembered part of the entire film. Enough in here for fans to
relish, but this was perhaps evidence that the Python's celluloid
timeline was coming to a discreet end.

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*** This review may contain spoilers ***

From the anarcho syndicalist communes of "The Holy Grail", to the
bourgeois consumerism of "Time Bandits", to pretty much everything in
"Life of Brian", the Monty Python troupe have always tried to be
subversive. Their 1983 film, "The Meaning of Life", is no different.

The film is separated into seven chapters, or "stages of life". The
first chapter, "Birth", parodies British kitchen-sink dramas ("Look
Back In Anger", "A Taste of Honey" etc) and big budget musicals
("Oliver", "Mary Poppins" etc), using the contrast between both genres
(one of which stresses escapism, the other confrontation) and a tale
which compares hi-tech hospital birthing for the privileged with a
working class Catholic family comprised of hundreds of children singing
"all sperm are sacred, all sperm are great", to mock everything from
health care, religion, the Pope's aversion to condoms, hospital
overspending, class divides, gender building ("Is it a boy or a girl?"
a mother asks when her child is delivered. "A little early to start
imposing roles upon it!" the doctor replies.), Puritan attitudes about
sex and how glossy, expensive musicals pander to (and are embraced by)
the working class whilst gritty kitchen-sink dramas are typically
embraced by snobbish types.

Ten minutes into the film and already the Python gang have touched upon
more issues than most directors do in a lifetime.

The film's second chapter, titled "Education", shows students
witnessing a graphic sex education lesson. The metaphoric implications
of classroom competition, a society indoctrinated into domination and
subservience (sexual, economic, physical, psychological etc), are then
carried to a literalized extreme as the "educators" brutalise their
students during a sadistic sporting event, the kids forced to play a
one sided rugby match between children and violent adults.

The film's third chapter, titled "war", is introduced with a neat
match-cut linking a boy on a rugby field with a soldier in the same
position on a battlefield. From school and sports we therefore move on
to the logical consequence, segueing smoothly from organised male team
sports to team sports (war, nationalism, patriotism etc) by other
means. The implication here is not only that gender roles are
constructed or reinforced by institutions, but that this microcosm of
domination is merely boot-camp for domination (and corporate/national
survival, and the survival of socio-political movements) on a larger
scale.

And so on and on it goes, the Monty Python gang constructing a series
of philosophical comedy skits which aim at social criticism. The best
segment is Terry Gilliam's "The Crimson Permanent Insurance", a skit
about accountants who stage an ineffectual rebellion against wall
street, bankers and corporate oligarchs, but there's lots of other good
stuff strewn about as well. Consider the funny skit about a man charged
"for superfluous sexist behaviour". He's given the death sentence by a
judge, and allowed to choose the method of his execution. His choice?
He chooses to die by being chased off a cliff by a dozen naked women.
In other words, the "treatment" is as sexist as the victim, a subtle
jab at capital punishment.

Other skits feature soldiers comically dying as they bring gifts,
presents and clocks for their commanders (literalizing how soldiers are
exploited and die so that leaders may "have more time" and "wealth"),
whilst another has a ridiculously fat man consuming huge amounts of
food before vomiting on everyone in sight. The personification of
capitalist greed, this rich slob consumes and consumes, barfing all
over everyone, including a lowly floor scrubber who later confesses to
hating Jews, a subtle allusion to the Holocaust and how the resentments
of the poor are easily misdirected.

Another segment features a song about man's inconsequentiality, mankind
dwarfed by the sheer scale and indifference of the universe, another
features leaves committing suicide in autumn, another features a school
headmaster celebrating those who died to keep China under the thumb of
the British Empire, and another features folks discussing the "meaning
of life" and deciding that such thoughts are morbid and merely serve to
distract people from living life itself. Throw in jabs at Catholicism,
Puritanism, Protestantism, the lifestyles of the ruling class and
"middle class", the military, pretentious educational films, the
irrational blind faith man has in science and the ideological
manipulations of the mass media and you have one massively angry film
masquerading as light comedy.

8/10 – A very dark film, with very little optimism in sight. Still,
it's not all doom and gloom. If the film ever comes close to
articulating the "meaning of life", it's in the words of a French
waiter who says "there are many people in the world, and in order to
get along, you have to try and make everyone happy." Of course the
waiter then looks directly into the camera and tells his audience to
"f**k off!". And "f**k off" we do.

Worth one viewing.

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Comedy is so challenging because of the painstaking determination of
how much and what kind of laughter one's after in a given film. Jon
Polito makes me laugh out loud a lot every time I watch Miller's
Crossing, about a bloody gangster drama famous for its scene in which a
man begs desperately for his life while being cold-bloodedly ushered
into the woods to be executed. But Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters
pushes comedy so close to drama that my laughter is a subdued, knowing
chuckle rather than a series of belly laughs. It's a matter of climate.
Not simply genre or even subgenre. It's about atmosphere, tone, flavor
created by the funny moments.

This is the closing, least pleasantry and most elaborate exertion from
the British comedy troupe. Their prior excursions undertake Arthurian
myth and the more contentious birth of Christ. But more than The Holy
Grail or even Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life embroils the
philosophy of its themes and ideas, the humor of its cast, and the
vivid grimness if its legitimacy. In due course, the impression is felt
that this may in fact be a sufficient effort to grasp existence.

The film's more hilarious moments arise in its thematically feeblest
scenes: Death is called to a bourgeois dinner party, where each is awed
with the uniqueness of the experience, and asks grating questions. Then
one man, who has selected the method of his own demise, is hunted by a
pack of bouncy, topless women. The clever closing number illustrates a
heaven that resembles a Las Vegas act. And yet even in these scenes,
notable for their absurdity, a moving philosophy perseveres: If there's
one thing every human being shares, it's an innate, shared enthrallment
with death.

In explanation, The Meaning of Life is a film dismembered into diverse
"parts," each a secluded, unconnected send-up somehow handling the
film's requisite thesis. The uncertainty of life itself—maybe due to
its all-inclusive nature, entailing here subjects from "Growth and
Learning" to "Live Organ Transplants," and Gilliam does his thing with
the Crimson Permanent Insurance episode, bringing in his fantastical
sets and signature onslaught against corporate power—works to join
together these divided episodes. Halfway through The Meaning of Life, a
woman, a kind of host, sits, to her right a title card that reads: The
Middle of the Film. At this juncture the filmmakers have discarded
their film's reality, hanging hardly in a film abounding with
theoretical meditations in the manner of sing-a-longs, and in turn
accepted the pointlessness of their endeavor to interpret life's
obscurity.

Laughter under social conditions allows the soul to be
congregationalized, and instead of meeting in mutual enmity and
distrust, we allow our unconscious responses to become socialized,
trusting and openly infectious. The fish with the troupe's faces
appearing intermittently to comment on the action don't link death with
what life is all about, with what life means. Similarly, the couple
examining the philosophy menu in the restaurant in the film show no
more than the most hollow of interest in philosophy. What that scene
evokes is that just as religion has, for many, become conformist and
routine in its practices and sacraments, numbing really, philosophy has
become very aloof, refined and selective. It appears on the menu, but
stimulates next to no enthusiasm. In particular it's haughtily
indifferent to those questions that matter, the most pivotal of which
remains, hence the film's title.

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