Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin team up with a few fish to explain the meaning of life. Then they show a long episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
The Meaning of Life contains the second best song in film history. The best is “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Life of Brian (also a Monty Python film), but running a close second is this film’s “Every Sperm is Sacred.” There are few more iconic moments in cinema than that of the horde of Dickensian children explaining Catholicism’s prohibition on birth control in song and dance. This is then followed by an equally brilliant skewering of Protestantism and a hymn that reveals the true motivation behind monotheism (if you grovel enough, maybe that bastard God won’t smite you). Add in the brilliant short feature The Crimson Permanent Assurance and an amusing look at sex education classes and you’ve got the beginnings of a great film that handily breaks the four barrier on the atheism scale.
And then… well… the film continues.
When it comes down to it, The Meaning of Life is not a film. It’s a bunch of independent shorts and sketches that they threw together and slapped title cards between to give the illusion of cohesion. While this structure is an amusing metaphor for religion, it causes difficulties when trying to view the film as a unified whole. Without characters or meaningful plot threads to lead me through the film, there is nothing to make me care how it ends. All I’m there for is to see whether they have anything to top “Every Sperm is Sacred.”
Yet, even having shot their wad in the first few reels, this is still Monty Python. What they turn out in their post-orgasmic grogginess is still worth watching. So, while it’s the weakest of their three films (the one I’ve yet to mention being Monty Python and the Holy Grail), it still garners a 3.5 on the quality scale, and if you’re watching it on DVD, where you can easily skip to the best parts, it might even be worth a 4. Still, if you’re only going to see one Monty Python film, see Life of Brian instead.