Blog Directory CineVerse: Life, death, and everything in between (plus a few oddball diversions along the way)

Life, death, and everything in between (plus a few oddball diversions along the way)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

If you're seeking sobering philosophical answers to the most important existential questions, you may not want to ask the Monty Python troupe. Then again, this silly and sardonic sextet may have actually figured out what it's all about – the meaning of life, that is. For proof, look to their film of the same name, which we explored yesterday at CineVerse. Although we may not have uncovered the answers to the mysteries of life, death and the afterlife, we did uncover answers that may help you appreciate this movie. For example:


  • It begins with a strange mini-movie prologue that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the film but which fits within the Python tradition of non sequitur absurdist humor.
  • It’s not a straightforward narrative with set characters, settings and situations like the Python troupe’s previous Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian. Instead, serves as a series of unrelated and seemingly random sketches about life and death.
  • It isn’t afraid to be disturbing, provocative, divisive, grotesque, crass, obnoxious, and immaturely titillating. It attacks many sacred cows and institutions, including Catholicism, Protestantism, patriotism, government, education, fear of death, and others.
  • Consider the lengths it goes to to lampoon and make us laugh – depicting an extended and disgusting vomiting session by morbidly obese man, naked women serving as a harbinger of death, singing a farcical song about the religiously inspired choice of not using contraceptives, satirizing the teaching of sex education, and more.
  • Arguably, it’s not as funny as the group’s previous works; but it seems to be tackling the deepest and most serious issues and has the benefit of what appears to be a larger budget and higher production values in which to demonstrate its zany brand of comedy.
  • Interestingly, the film does ask deep, serious philosophical questions that prove rhetorical: why are we here, what is it all about, where do we go when we die, etc. Using the pretext of comedy and silliness, the Pythons force us to ask similar questions about our own mortality and reasons for being. Blogger Phil Reed said the film presents “big ideas explored in small (and often irrelevant) ways.”
  • Reed suggested that the ridiculous nature of the movie and its characters “takes us off our guard. After all, a film that intends to discuss a topic as wide and ineffable as the meaning of existence can't be taken too seriously if the question is posed by a fish with John Cleese's head on it. It makes the audience more receptive to the idea that a satisfactory answer to The Ultimate Question might not be reached after all. But more importantly, it allows the Pythons to slip a genuine stab at the meaning of life into the film without actually having it held up and dissected by viewers at all.”
  • It ends by fulfilling the promise it made at the beginning that everything you wanted to know about life and existence will be explained; ironically, however, this explanation is quickly rattled off by a talking head who reads a bit of prepared copy for a few seconds – making the ultimate explanation for the meaning of life quite anticlimactic and relatively insignificant.
  • The randomness, unfairness and possible pointlessness of life: “Triumph and tragedy alternate throughout the film, but there is always a steady magnetic return to the middle ground of life's tedium and banality, such as when trench warfare takes a back seat to a birthday celebration, or an exploding restaurant patron gives way to an after-hours cigarette break,” posited Reed.
  • Different levels of life and reality. Reed also believes that there are three parallel levels of reality within the film, starting with the lowest level, “in which the characters do not know they are characters and don’t realize they are in a film or even that there is a film to be in,” he wrote. The top level, represented by the fish – which “not only start off the film, but they appear to be above the middle of the film as well, as they are able to watch and comment on it when it’s over,” Reed noted. And us in the middle.
  • The fat man seen also plays with levels in the form of a hierarchical social structure and pecking order, according to Reed. At the top of Reed’s ladder here is Mr. Creosote, who is catered to by the maître d’ and other servants within the restaurants on a lower level. At the bottom of this ladder is Maria, the cleaning woman, and the fish in this scene. By causing Mr. Creosote to blowup, the maître d’ puts himself at the top of the ladder and also elevates the stature of the cleaning lady.
  • The viewer as the central character in the movie they are viewing. Reed writes that, often, “the camera is operating from a first-person perspective. Characters address you, apologize to you, invite you to follow them, and become frustrated with you. It is for your benefit that they are having these discussions, and they sincerely want you to benefit from them, becoming upset when you walk out of the restaurant, or frustrated when you don't seem to have learned anything from their own personal philosophies.”
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  • The Seventh Seal
  • Oliver!
  • Stand by Me

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