Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
|Monty Python's The Meaning of Life|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Terry Jones|
|Produced by||John Goldstone|
|Written by||Monty Python|
|Music by||John Du Prez
|Editing by||Julian Doyle|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Running time||Theatrical cut
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, also known as The Meaning of Life, is a 1983 musical-sketch comedy film by the Monty Python team. Unlike Holy Grail and Life of Brian, this film's two immediate predecessors, which 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 sketches about the various stages of life; but unlike their first film, And Now For Something Completely Different, which was a compilation of various Flying Circus sketches, this film was composed from entirely new and original material by the Pythons.
The film begins with a stand-alone 17-minute supporting feature entitled The Crimson Permanent Assurance (directed by Terry Gilliam). A group of elderly office clerks in a small accounting firm rebel against their emotionlessly efficient, yuppie corporate masters. They commandeer their building, turn it into a pirate ship, and sail into a large financial district, where they raid and overthrow a large multinational corporation.
The film itself opens with several fish in a restaurant tank, performed by the Pythons. They look on and see one of the fish, Howard, being eaten by a customer, and then start to ask themselves about the meaning of life.
The film proper consists of a series of distinct sketches, broken into seven chapters.
- Part I – The Miracle Of Birth
- A woman in labour is taken into a hospital delivery room, where she is largely ignored by doctors (Cleese and Chapman) and nurses, who are more concerned with using the hospital's most expensive equipment to impress the hospital's administrator (Palin).
- In Yorkshire, a Roman Catholic man (Palin) loses his employment. He goes home to his wife (Jones) and an impossible number of children, where he discusses the church's opposition to the use of contraception, leading into the musical number "Every Sperm Is Sacred". Watching this unfold, a Protestant man (Chapman) proudly lectures his wife (Idle) on their church's tolerance towards contraception and having intercourse for fun, although his frustrated wife points out that they never do.
- Part II – Growth and Learning
- A schoolmaster (Cleese) and chaplain (Palin) conduct a nonsensical Anglican church service in an English public school. The master lectures the boys on excessively detailed school etiquette regarding the school cormorant, and hanging clothes on the correct peg. In a subsequent class, the schoolboys (Idle, Palin, Jones, Chapman and others) watch in boredom as the master gives a sex education lesson, by physically demonstrating techniques with his wife (Patricia Quinn). Later, a team of boys is beaten – physically and on the scoreboard – in a violent rugby match against the masters; the scene then match cuts to Part III.
- Part III – Fighting Each Other
- A World War I officer (Jones) attempts to rally his men (Chapman, Gilliam, Palin, Idle, and Cleese) to find cover during an attack, but is hindered by their insistence on celebrating his birthday, complete with presents and cake.
- A blustery army RSM (Palin) attempts to drill a platoon of men, among them Atkinson (Idle) and Wycliff (Chapman), but ends up left alone when he dismisses each to pursue leisure activities.
- In 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War in Natal, a devastating attack by Zulus is dismissed in lieu of a far more pressing matter: one of the officers, Atkinson (Idle), has had his leg bitten off during the night. The military doctor (Chapman) hypothesises that, despite not being native to Africa, a tiger might be the perpetrator. Ainsworth (Cleese), Packenham-Walsh (Palin) and a sergeant (Jones) form a hunting party, which encounters two suspicious men (Idle and Palin) dressed in two halves of a tiger suit, who attempt to assert their innocence through a succession of increasingly feeble excuses as to why they are dressed as a tiger.
- The Middle of the Film
- A woman (Palin), as if on a talk-show called "The Middle of the Film" introduces a segment called "Find The Fish" – a brief surreal piece in which a drag queen (Chapman), a gangly long-armed man (Jones), and an elephant-headed butler eerily challenge the audience to find a fish in the scene. Throughout this scene, "audience members" in the film yell out where they think the fish is. The fish from the beginning of the film are quite impressed with this segment.
- Part IV – Middle Age
- A middle-aged American couple (Idle as the wife and Palin as the husband) heads to a dungeon-themed Hawaiian restaurant at a holiday resort. They are presented with a menu of conversation topics by their waiter (Cleese), and choose philosophy and the meaning of life. Their awkward and generally uninformed conversation quickly grinds to a halt, and they send it back, complaining "This conversation isn't very good."
- Part V – Live Organ Transplants
- Two paramedics (Chapman and Cleese) arrive at the doorstep of Mr Brown (Gilliam), a card-carrying organ donor, to claim his liver, gruesomely operating on him against his will. Cleese's paramedic unsuccessfully attempts to chat up Mrs Brown (Jones), then requests her liver as well. She initially declines, but after a man (Idle) sings a song about man's insignificance in the universe ("The Galaxy Song"), she agrees.
- In a large corporate boardroom, a businessman straight-forwardly summarises his two-part report on the meaning of life: that the human soul must be "brought into existence by a process of guided self-observation", which rarely happens because people are easily distracted; and that "people aren't wearing enough hats." This is followed by an attempted takeover of the building by the Crimson Permanent Assurance from the short feature.
- Part VI – The Autumn Years
- A posh restaurant, complete with a pianist (Idle, singing "The Penis Song" à la Noël Coward), is visited by Mr. Creosote (Jones), an impossibly fat man in his autumn years. The fish at the beginning, seeing him, shout "Oh, shit! It's Mr. Creosote!" and all flee in terror. He swears at the unflappable maître d' (Cleese), vomits copiously, and orders and finishes an enormous meal and a huge quantity of beer and wine – to the disgust of other patrons. After finishing, the maître d' offers him a small after-dinner mint, before running and hiding to watch Creosote explode, showering the restaurant with human entrails and vomit.
- Part VI-B – The Meaning of Life
Afterwards, two of the restaurant's staff offer their own thoughts on the meaning of life. The maître d' converses with cleaning lady Maria (Jones) followed by waiter Gaston (Idle) leading the viewer to the countryside where he was born and telling the story of how his mother encouraged him to notice the beauty of the world and love everyone; realizing that the audience is unamused, he angrily dismisses them and walks off.
- Part VII – Death
- A condemned man (Chapman) is allowed to choose the manner of his execution: being chased off the edge of a cliff by a horde of topless women.
- A depressed autumn leaf "commits suicide" by falling off its tree. Distraught, his wife and children quickly do likewise, followed by the rest of the tree's leaves simultaneously.
- The Grim Reaper (Cleese) visits an isolated country house, and finds himself invited into a dinner party. Not knowing who he is, the dinner guests spend a lot of time arguing with him before finally being told they've all died of botulism from eating contaminated salmon mousse. Their souls leave their bodies, and they follow the Grim Reaper to Heaven.
- The dinner guests arrive in Heaven, a bright Las Vegas-style hotel where every day is Christmas. In a large auditorium filled with characters from throughout the movie, a cheesy Tony Bennett-like lounge singer (Chapman) performs the song "Christmas in Heaven", while a series of topless women in Christmas costumes perform an elaborate dance number.
- The End of the Film
- The hostess from "the Middle of the Film" is handed an envelope containing the meaning of life, and nonchalantly reads it out: 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 then, however, suggests that "gratuitous pictures of penises" and other senseless controversies would do a better job at bringing the audiences into the cinema, and bitterly announces the closing credits.
- Graham Chapman as Chairman (also in Crimson) / Fish #1 / Obstetrician / Harry Blackitt / Wymer / Hordern / General / Coles / Narrator #2 / Dr. Livingstone / Transvestite / Eric / Guest #1 / Arthur Jarrett / Tony Bennett Lounge Singer
- John Cleese as Fish #2 / Dr. Spencer / Humphrey Williams / Sturridge / Ainsworth / Waiter / Eric's Assistant / Maître D' / Grim Reaper
- Terry Gilliam as Window Washer (in Crimson) / Fish #4 / Walters / Middle of the Film Announcer / M'Lady Joeline / Mr. Brown / Howard Katzenberg
- Eric Idle as Gunther (also in Crimson) / Fish #3 / 'Meaning of Life' Singer / Mr. Moore / Mrs. Blackitt / Watson / Blackitt / Atkinson / Perkins / Soldier Victim #3 / Man in Front End of Tiger Suit / Mrs. Hendy / Man in Pink / Noël Coward / Gaston / Angela
- Terry Jones as Bert (also in Crimson) / Fish #6 / Mum / Priest / (Capt.) Biggs / Sergeant / Man with Bendy Arms / Mrs. Brown / Mr. Creosote / Maria / Leaf Father (voice) / Fiona Portland-Smythe
- Michael Palin as Window Washer (in Crimson) / Harry (also in Crimson) / Fish #5 / Mr. Pycroft / Dad / Narrator #1 / Chaplain / Carter / Spadger / Regimental Seargeant Major / Pakenham-Walsh / Man in Rear End of tiger suit / Female TV Presenter / Mr. Marvin Hendy / Governor / Leaf Son (voice) / Debbie Katzenberg
- Carol Cleveland as Beefeater Waitress / Wife of Guest #1 / Leaf Mother (voice) / Leaf Daughter (voice) / Heaven Receptionist
- Patricia Quinn as Mrs. Williams
- Mark Holmes as A Severed Head
- Simon Jones as Chadwick / Jeremy Portland-Smyth
- Matt Frewer as one of the yuppies in The Crimson Permanent Assurance segment
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 $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 Heavens and 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, The Crimson Permanent Assurance is counted separately since it is a "Short Subject Presentation"). In the 2003 DVD release of the film, the tagline is altered to read "It took God six days to create the Heavens and the Earth, and Monty Python just 1 hour and 48 minutes to screw it up".
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.
- "Festival de Cannes: Monty Python's The Meaning of Life". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 16 June 2009.
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|Awards and achievements|
The Night of the Shooting Stars
|Grand Prix Spécial du Jury, Cannes
Diary for My Children