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Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Terry Jones
Produced by John Goldstone
Written by Graham Chapman
John Cleese
Terry Gilliam
Eric Idle
Terry Jones
Michael Palin
Starring Graham Chapman
John Cleese
Terry Gilliam
Eric Idle
Terry Jones
Michael Palin
Music by John Du Prez
Cinematography Peter Hannan
Roger Pratt
Editing by Julian Doyle
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) 31 March 1983
Running time Theatrical cut
107 minutes
Director's Cut
112 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $9 million
Gross revenue $18,059,552
Preceded by Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life is a 1983 musical comedy film by the Monty Python comedy team. Unlike the two previous films they had made, which had each told a single, more or less coherent story, The Meaning of Life returns to the sketch comedy format of the troupe's original television series, loosely structured as a series of comic skits about the various stages of life, roughly based on the Seven Ages of Man.

Contents

Background

The origins of The Meaning of Life are, like all of Python's films, somewhat shrouded. However, in the 2003 "autobiography" of the troupe, John Cleese claims that it was he who first stoked the fires when Denis O'Brien of Handmade Films—the production company that had been formed especially for The Life of Brian—claimed to him that the financial benefits of another outing for the team were virtually nailed on, and would be so lucrative as to guarantee the ability of taking early retirement. Eric Idle later claimed, "He was playing on John's fantasy. John has been telling of the day when he'll never have to work again since we met him." On the subject of whose idea it was, Michael Palin indicated that it was a group decision. "We'd produced something that was of high quality [Life of Brian]... I think another Python film went to the top of most people's agendas." Nevertheless, he concedes that the decision to do another film may have been largely financial, particularly with a major Hollywood studio now genuinely interested in their contracts; "Universal probably made us a big enough offer to kick us off our arses."

When beginning to formulate ideas, sometime in the early 1980s, the Pythons decided that they couldn't return to the "silly" style of their first feature film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After the satire of Life of Brian, they had to tackle another big subject. Terry Jones (who again returned to his role as the Python film director) was the one credited with the idea of a sketch film that followed the progressing ages of human life, from birth to death. This necessitated a return to something structurally closer to the style of Flying Circus, their initial TV show. The decision on the structure had been made before writing began, but the theme was not agreed upon until after several chunks of possible material had already been written (including one of Cleese's personal favourites, a scene where the Ayatollah captures some Western explorers). So, the movie went through several different forms before it was even known what the point of it all was. As a result, many critics have commented that this film seems disjointed in comparison to previous Python efforts. The suggestion of one final possible rewrite was discarded just before shooting. If it had gone ahead, the film would have featured a protagonist; an everyman figure. Most likely, he would have been played by Graham Chapman, as were the leads in Grail and Brian. Cleese later admitted that he refused the idea, despite subsequently being the film's biggest critic from within Python.

The film is embellished with some of Python's most bizarre and disturbing moments, as well as various elaborate musical numbers. The film is by far their darkest work, containing a great deal of black humour, garnished by some spectacular violence. At the time of its release, the Pythons confessed their aim was to offend "absolutely everyone".

Besides the opening credits and the fish sequence, Gilliam, by now an established live action director with the success of Time Bandits under his wing, no longer wanted to produce any linking cartoons, offering instead to direct one sketch—"The Crimson Permanent Assurance". Under his helm, however, the segment grew so ambitious and tangential that it was cut from the movie and used as a supporting feature in its own right (television screenings also use it as a prologue).

Crucially, this was the last project that all six Pythons would collaborate on, except for the 1989 compilation Parrot Sketch Not Included - 20 Years of Monty Python, where they are all seen sitting in a cupboard for four seconds. This would be the last time Chapman was filmed on screen with the rest of the group.

Plot

The film is divided into chapters, though the chapters themselves often contain several more-or-less unconnected sketches.

  • "The Crimson Permanent Assurance", a lengthy introductory film directed by Terry Gilliam. In a satire on globalisation, elderly office clerks rebel against their cold, efficient corporate masters at 'The Permanent Assurance Company', commandeer their building and turn it into a pirate ship, raiding financial districts in numerous big cities, before falling off the edge of the world.
  • The film properly opens with the six Pythons playing animated fish in a tank, who engage in a brief philosophical conversation. The theme music then plays, accompanied with an establishing animation that does not include any actual credits.
  • "Part I: The Miracle Of Birth", comes in two parts. The first involves a woman in labour who is ignored by doctors (Cleese and Chapman), nurses, and eventually the hospital's administrator (Palin) as they drag in more and more elaborate equipment, including their pride and joy, "the machine that goes PING!". The second part, subtitled "The Third World", is set in Yorkshire. It depicts a Roman Catholic couple (Palin and Jones), who can no longer afford to feed their 63 children, a number that has arisen because their religion forbids birth control. They are forced to sell their many offspring for medical experiments. The skit culminates in the musical number "Every Sperm is Sacred". This satire on the Catholic Church's attitudes toward contraception and masturbation is followed by one on Protestants: Chapman plays the husband of the household next door, who lectures his wife on their church's tolerance toward having intercourse for fun, although his frustrated spouse (Idle) points out that they never do.
  • "Part II: Growth And Learning" features a group of public schoolboys attending an Anglican church service (conducted by Cleese), which commences with an nonsensical Old Testament passage followed by a hymn entitled "Oh Lord, Please Don't Burn Us". In a subsequent class, they watch in boredom as their teacher (Cleese) gives a sex education lesson, by physically demonstrating techniques with his wife (Patricia Quinn). Later, we see a rugby match of students vs. masters, the ending of which overtly segues into a battlefield in the middle of a war.
  • In "Part III: Fighting Each Other", a World War I officer (Jones) attempting to rally his men to find cover during an attack is hindered by their insistence on celebrating his birthday, complete with presents and cake. This leads into a lecture on the positive qualities of the military. A blustery army sergeant (Palin) attempts to drill a platoon of men, dismissing each to pursue leisure activities, then complains about today's poor military force. There follows a long sketch set during the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War in Natal, in which a decimating attack by Zulus is dismissed in lieu of a far more pressing matter: One of the officers (Idle) has had his leg bitten off during the night. The military doctor (Chapman) hypothesises that a tiger might be the perpetrator. To recover the leg, a hunting party is formed, which later encounters two suspicious men (Idle and Palin) dressed as two halves of a tiger suit, who attempt to assert their innocence in the matter through a succession of increasingly feeble excuses as to why they are dressed as a tiger.
  • "The Middle Of The Film" is introduced by Gilliam dressed as a black man and Palin in drag. This leads to a surreal sketch called "Find The Fish", ostensibly set in a mansion, but in reality comprises a makeshift living room on the operations floor of the former Battersea Power Station. Here a drag queen (Chapman), a gangly playboy (Jones), and an elephant-headed butler challenge the audience. The elephant-headed butler is a creature from Gilliam's earlier film Time Bandits [1]. After this, the fish in the tank briefly return, praising the previous scene and commenting on the film so far.
  • "Part IV: Middle Age" features a middle-aged American couple (Idle as the wife and Palin as the husband) taking a vacation to a bizarre resort, where they are greeted by M'Lady Joeline (Gilliam dressed in drag) and are shown to an authentic medieval dungeon with Hawaiian music. Having nothing to talk about, they order a conversation about the "meaning of life". Being apparently quite intellectually uncurious, they send it back, complaining "this conversation isn't very good."
  • In "Part V: Live Organ Transplants", two paramedics (Chapman and Cleese) arrive at the doorstep of a card-carrying organ donor, Mr. Brown (Gilliam, supposedly as a Jewish Rastafarian with a Hitler moustache), to claim his liver. Still being alive, he initially refuses. Not to be deterred, the paramedics burst through the door and brutally disembowel him, removing the organ "under condition of death". Mrs. Brown (Jones) goes to make a cup of tea for one of the paramedics, who asks her if she'd consider donating her liver. She is unsure. To convince her, the paramedic introduces her to the man in a pink suit (Idle) who lives inside her refrigerator to sing her a song about the wonders of the universe, resulting in her realising the futility of her existence and agreeing to the request. Meanwhile, at Very Big American Company headquarters, a businessman suggests to the company two philosophies: the meaning of life and that people should wear more hats. This is followed by an attempt by the "Crimson Permanent Assurance" to take over the film proper, which is dealt with by dropping a large skyscraper on the Assurance building.
Mr. Creosote (Terry Jones), with the maître d' (John Cleese, right) and second waiter (Eric Idle, left)
  • Part VI: The Autumn Years", is also split into two stages. The first is introduced with Eric Idle as a Noel Coward-esque fop performing the song "Isn't It Awfully Nice to Have a Penis?". Following this, Mr. Creosote, an impossibly fat man (Jones), waddles into a decorous restaurant, swears at the French waiter (Cleese), and vomits copiously on himself, the menu, a cleaning woman, and into buckets if available. After making room, he eats an enormous meal, and finally, despite protestations that he is now full, he is persuaded to eat one last "waffer"-thin mint, whereupon he explodes, showering the restaurant with human entrails. Many of the other patrons are so disgusted and horrified that they themselves throw up. After this comes the second stage of this part, "Part VI-B", which contains two philosophical monologues. The first is delivered by a cleaning lady (Jones), entirely in rhyme, culminating with "I feel that life's a game, you sometimes win or lose / And though I may be down right now, at least I don't work for Jews". Her reward for this offensive comment is to have one of the buckets of vomit dumped on her head by the waiter, who then offers an apology for her racism. The second is delivered by another French waiter (Idle), who leads the camera on a long walk through the streets to the house where he grew up, and delivers his personal philosophy: "The world is a beautiful place. You must go into it and love everyone. Try to make everyone happy, and bring peace and contentment everywhere you go. And so I became a waiter.... Well, it's not much of a philosophy I know, but well... fuck you! I can live my own life in my own way if I want to! Fuck off!"
  • "Part VII: Death" opens with a funeral setup. After this, we see Arthur Charles Herbert Runcie MacAdam Jarrett (Chapman), a criminal convicted of making gratuitous sexist jokes in a film, killed in a manner of his choosing: He is chased off a cliff by topless women in brightly-coloured crash helmets. A brief animation of suicidal leaves falling off a tree leads into "Social Death", in which a group of people at an isolated country house are visited by the Grim Reaper (Cleese), who knocks on the door. Not knowing who he is, the dinner guests spend a lot of time arguing with him before finally being persuaded to shuffle off their mortal coils. Heaven turns out to be the resort from Part IV. When they enter, all of the characters from the film who have died throughout its course (the Roman Catholic children, the topless women, the liver-less Brown couple, Mr. Creosote, etc.) are already seated, and all are then serenaded by a Tony Bennett-like lounge singer (Chapman) with the monumentally cheesy song "Christmas In Heaven", a parody of Las Vegas-style shows, complete with women wearing plastic breasts in Santa Claus outfits (one of which was the actress Jane Leeves in one of her first roles). The gleaming-toothed lounge singer tells all those present that in Heaven, it's Christmas every day, forever. (According to the DVD commentary, the women were supposed to be topless, but the female costume designer, stated that fake, uniformly sized breasts would be funnier than the disparately sized, natural breasts of the dancers.)
  • "The End Of The Film", in which the female character from "The Middle of the Film" (Palin) concludes the matter by reading out the "meaning of life" (introducing it by saying "It's nothing very special"):
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.

She finishes by promising gratuitous pictures of penises "to annoy the censors and to hopefully spark some sort of controversy".

  • Finally, the film ends with part of the title sequence from Flying Circus (itself rife with the aforementioned gratuitous phallic imagery) - together with a portion of the theme music, John Philip Sousa's Liberty Bell, playing on a TV set drifting off into space, before the "Galaxy Song" plays over the end credits, ending in a letter of thanks to all the fish who participated in the film, and a wish for peace and a better future for fish everywhere.

Production

To persuade Universal Studios to make the film, the Pythons wrote a poem about the script, budget and content of the film. The poem, recited by Eric Idle, is featured as the introduction to the film in the Special Edition DVD.

During the title sequence, the title of the movie is first written on a stone tablet as 'THE MEANING OF LIFF', and is corrected by a lightning strike. Oddly enough, Douglas Adams and John Lloyd—the former of whom had worked on a few episodes the Monty Python television programme—released a book the same year as this film was released, entitled the The Meaning of Liff, with absolutely no knowledge of the film at the time.

In the 1999 TV documentary, From Spam to Sperm: Monty Python's Greatest Hits, choreographer Arlene Phillips recalls working on the film, and in particular the "Every Sperm is Sacred" sequence, as "the very best time" of her professional career.

As the people at the final dinner party follow Death out of the house, Michael Palin's character says "Hey, I didn't eat the mousse" (referring to the salmon mousse that ostensibly killed them all). This moment is one of the very few junctures in the Monty Python series in which a line of dialogue was actually improvised.

A section of the sketch "The Man Who Chose His Own Death" is accompanied by a piece of stock "library music" that also appears in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Brazil.

The film's editor, Julian Doyle, wished to end the film with a different sequence. The Creosote sketch would be immediately followed by the Death Sequence. After the "Christmas in Heaven" number, the film would go back to the restaurant where the staff is still cleaning up. The following of Eric Idle's waiter character to his home would have been the final part of the film, with the credits rolling as he walks away.

The Director's Cut has three more scenes. The first is "The Adventures of Martin Luther". The second scene comes between the marching around the square scene and the Zulu army scene. It is a promotional video about the British army. The third and last is an extension of the American characters that Eric Idle and Michael Palin do, in which they are shown their room and talk about tampons. Before the scene where the two order a conversation, there is a scene before-hand where they order food from a waitress (Carol Cleveland)

Release

The film opened in North America on 31 March 1983. At 257 theatres, it grossed US $1,987,853 ($7,734 per screen) in its opening weekend. It played at 554 theatres at its widest point, and its total North American gross was US$14,929,552.It currently has a score of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes

In 2003, a Special Edition DVD was released, with director's audio commentary, deleted scenes, and behind-the-scenes documentaries (both real and spoofed). The DVD also featured a soundtrack for the lonely, which is an audio commentary of a completely disgusting man (Michael Palin) who is sitting watching the film in his flat, throughout the commentary he usually picks up the phone and talks to friends (Terry Jones and Eric Idle), passes gas and talks under his voice.

The original tagline read "It took God six days to create the Earth, and Monty Python just 90 minutes to screw it up", but the length of the film is 107 minutes (the film only has a length of 90 minutes if The Crimson Permanent Assurance is counted separately). In the 2005 DVD release of the film, the tagline is corrected to read "It took God six days to create the Earth, and Monty Python just 1 hour and 48 minutes to screw it up".

In the United Kingdom, on 13 March 2009, the film was shown in High Definition for the first time on British Sky Broadcasting.

Awards

The Meaning of Life was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival.[2]

Censorship and ratings

Ireland banned the film on its original release, as it had previously done with Monty Python's Life of Brian, but later, rated it 15 when it was released on video. In the United Kingdom, the film was rated 18 when released in the cinema and on its first release on video, but was re-rated 15 in 2000. In the United States, the film is rated R.

References

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
The Night of the Shooting Stars
Grand Prix Spécial du Jury, Cannes
1983
Succeeded by
Diary for My Children

Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (aka The Meaning of Life), is a 1983 movie by Monty Python

Contents

Part I: The Miracle of Birth

Obstetrician 1: Get the EG, the BP monitor, and the AVV.
Obstetrician 2: And get the machine that goes "PING!"
Obstetrician 1: And get the most expensive machine in case the Administrator comes.

Patient: What do I do?
Obstetrician: Nothing, dear, you're not qualified.

[After the doctors quickly drop the baby into an incubator, the mother looks up.]
Patient: Is it a boy or a girl?
Obstetrician: Now, I think it's a little early to start imposing roles on it, don't you?

Hospital Administrator: Ah, I see you have the machine that goes "PING!" This is my favorite. You see, we lease this back from the company we sold it to; that way it comes under the monthly current budget and not the capital account. [The doctors and onlookers applaud.] Thank you, thank you. We try to do our best. Well, do carry on.

The Miracle of Birth, Part 2: The Third World

Mr Blackitt: When Martin Luther nailed his protest up to the church door in 1517, he may not have realised the full significance of what he was doing, but… 400 years later, thanks to him, my dear, I can wear whatever I want on my John Thomas.

Mr Blackitt: Have I got one [a condom]? Well, no, but I can go down the road any time I want and walk into Harry's and hold my head up high, and say in a loud steady voice: 'Harry I want you to sell me a condom. In fact, today I think I'll have a French Tickler, for I am a Protestant.'

Part III: Fighting Each Other

General: Well, of course, warfare isn't all fun. Right — stop that! It's all very well to laugh at the military, but when one considers the meaning of life, it is a struggle between alternative viewpoints of life itself. And without the ability to defend one's own viewpoint against other perhaps more aggressive ideologies, then reasonableness and moderation could, quite simply, disappear! That is why we'll always need an army, and may God strike me down were it to be otherwise.
[A lightning bolt destroys the general. Cut to outside, where the Hand of God rises into the clouds. A sergeant major stands before his troops.]
Sergeant Major: DON'T STAND THERE GAWPING LIKE YOU'VE NEVER SEEN THE HAND O' GOD BEFORE!

[During the 1st Zulu War (1879) in Glasgow Natal]
Ainsworth: Hello, Doctor, during the night, Ol' Perkins here got his leg bitten sort of ... off.
Dr. Livingstone: Oh, really? Well, let's take a look at this one leg of yours. [prods with the tip of his pipe] Yes, yes, yes, yes. Yes, yes. Yes, well, this is nothing to worry about.
Perkins: Oh, good.
Dr. Livingstone: Eh, there's a lot of it about — probably a virus. Keep warm, plenty of rest, and if you're playing any football try and favor the other leg.

Part VI: The Autumn Years

Maître-D': Uh, today we ’ave for appetizers — excuse me. Uh, moules marinières, pâté de foie gras, Beluga caviar, eggs Benedictine, tart de poireau — that’s leek tart — frogs’ legs amandine, or oeufs de caille Richard Shepherd — c’est-à-dire, little quails’ eggs on a bed of puréed mushroom; it’s very delicate, very subtle.
Mr Creosote: I’ll have the lot.
Maître-D': [Pause] A wise choice, monsieur! And now, ’ow would you like it served? All, uh, mixed up togezher in a bucket?
Mr Creosote: Yeah... with the eggs on top.

Part VII: Death

[Geoffrey is confronted by a hooded figure with a scythe.]
Geoffrey: Yes? [Pause.] Is it about the hedge?

Grim Reaper: Shut up! Shut up, you American. You always talk, you Americans, you talk and you talk and say 'Let me tell you something' and 'I just wanna say this.' Well, you're dead now, so shut up.

Grim Reaper: [Pokes Geoffrey in the eye.] Be quiet! You Englishmen, you're all so fucking pompous. None of you have got any balls.

The End of the Film

Lady Presenter: Well, that's the end of the film. Now, here's the meaning of life.
[She is handed a gold-wrapped booklet.]
Lady Presenter: Thank you, Brigitte.
[She clears her throat, then unwraps and examines the gilt booklet.]
Lady Presenter: Well, it's nothing very special. Uh, 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.

Major cast

  • Graham Chapman — Obstetrician, Mr Blackitt, General, Dr. Livingstone, Labcoat #2 (Eric), Chairman, Geoffrey
  • John Cleese — Humphrey Williams, Ainsworth, Labcoat #1, Mâitre-D, Grim Reaper
  • Terry Gilliam — Mr Brown, Howard Katzenberg
  • Eric Idle — Mrs Blackitt, Perkins, Man in Pink, Gaston, Angela
  • Terry Jones — Board Member, Mrs Brown, Mr Creosote, Maria
  • Michael Palin — Catholic Dad, Chaplain, Sergeant Major, Pakenham-Walsh, Harry, Padre, Lady Presenter

See also

External links








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