The Meaning of Life (1983)
May 30, 2020 12:01 PM - Subscribe

The Meaning of Life is a 1983 British musical sketch comedy film written and performed by the Monty Python troupe, directed by Terry Jones. It was the last film to feature all six Python members before Graham Chapman died in 1989.
posted by LobsterMitten (13 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I enjoy much of this film, but I always felt it represented a subconscious will of the Pythons to be done with Python. Instead of lovably surreal we got a lot of gore and shocking humor — kind of a kiss-off. The one bit of sweetness I recall is Eric Idle walking the pepperpot Terry Jones through the universe. Other than that it’s a challenging movie even when it’s funny (which it often is).
posted by argybarg at 12:28 PM on May 30, 2020 [4 favorites]

My original post for this was mistakenly labeled, so here is what I wrote at that deleted post:

I re-watched it accidentally last night, then realized what a masterpiece it is. Literally every episode is magnificent. Especially the Crimson Assurance (!), every sperm, where's the fish, Galaxy song & Christmas in Heaven scenes.

It's very gory though.

posted by growabrain at 2:25 PM on May 30, 2020

Since I came to Python courtesy of my high school friends in my mid-teens, this was the first (and, of course, the last) original Python content since I'd become a fan; the concert film, Live at the Hollywood Bowl, was more of a greatest-hits thing. And, still being a teenager, I was fine with Mr. Creosote et al, and "Every Sperm is Precious" was a big hit with my friends and I.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:37 PM on May 30, 2020

I'm not sure if the Pythons were certain this would be their last work together, but it does have a "final" feel with the angel of death and Christmas in Heaven and all that. It's more extreme and despairing than their early work, with lots of blood and guts and some shocking anger, like Eric Idle's battleground speech culminating with the bloody stump salute. They'd reached an age where they could either get lazy and comfortable or strain for outrage, and they went for shock comedy galore. A lot of it lands, but it leaves you feeling kind of bruised.

They either had the sense to realize it was diminishing returns beyond this, or they could just never get on the same page again. Perhaps it was a bit of both. The Pythons get compared to the Beatles a lot, and I feel like this is their Let It Be. It may not have had the legendary behind-the-scenes acrimony of that record, but it had a troubled creation and while it's got a lot of brilliant stuff in it it's kind of a grab bag and it's not up to the standard of their best work. The Pythons reunited for the stage show decades later, but while I'm an absolute maniac for Monty Python (my name is taken from a Flying Circus sketch) I never saw the stage show. I didn't want to see them become a nostalgia act, doing the dead parrot sketch again in their seventies. Of course, now we know it was a literal goodbye, that they had an inkling even then that Terry Jones was fading, but that prospect is so sad it makes me even less inclined to see the show. I'd prefer to let this movie stand as the last time I see them. It's not perfect, but my god, they sure went out with a big, bloody bang.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:47 PM on May 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think Galaxy Song is my favourite thing the Pythons did. It's so light and airy and out of place in this movie, but it works. This is a nice cover of it.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 7:28 PM on May 30, 2020

I caught this on TV. I remember that I saw it when I was a kid, and the liver donor scene freaked me right the hell out. All the screaming! It was still disturbing. And Mr. Creosote was even more disgusting than I remember.

I liked it better when I was a teen, of course. The "fishy, fishy, fish" scene was my favorite then.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:38 PM on May 30, 2020

Halloween Jack: ""Every Sperm is Precious""

posted by Chrysostom at 8:43 PM on May 30, 2020

the Crimson Assurance

I don't know how well-known this is, or how over-rehearsed a story, or whether it was exactly the same in the States so this is superfluous, but as a footnote: Up to about then, a night out at the pictures in the UK would follow this format: Supporting feature; Ads; Trailers; Main Film. The supporting feature was very rarely a feature, but a longish short film, invariably uninteresting and invariably British. This was because of the Eady Levy, which was repealed in 1985 when suddenly all the terrible short British films went away to make more space for more showings of terrible American films. The point of The Crimson Permanent Assurance was that it was shown first, no doubt with people chattering away, then breached the ads and the trailers and came crashing into the main film, the cinematic equivalent of the perfect reproductions of BBC2 continuity that would sometimes be incorporated into the tv show.

Although the chance that people didn't watch it is quite slim, as they came forewarned: I expect I mentioned on the appropriate Fanfare page that the supporting film for Life of Brian was a spoof travelogue called Away From It All - this is exactly what that part of the programme was like. Although I was too young to see Life of Brian when it came out, a teacher who did see it said that no one paid any attention at all to it until John Cleese said "More fucking gondolas!" at which point the crowded cinema fell silent.

Anyway, yes, Meaning of Life is kind of magnficent, but I think I'd rather watch the solo projects from around that time - Brazil, The Missionary, or Personal Services, although that's 1987.
posted by Grangousier at 3:14 AM on May 31, 2020 [5 favorites]

My memories of seeing this when it first came out in theaters in the US:
1) either they can't do american accents well, or they're deliberately doing them poorly / broadly, to mock them? In any case, they would absolutely take me out of the scene as I pondered the chunky 'rrrrr' sounds they'd be making. At the time, american actors could do very credible english accents, sometimes the inevitable cockney but also posh, mid-atlantic/wimbledon, etc. I wondered if english actors could do american accents well, and a few years later was delighted to hear some really excellent ones.
2) I love the Galaxy Song and have tried to memorize it; I should work on that so I come out of this quarantine with a bit more sparkle to my party repertoire.
3) It's a good sketch show, but it ultimately felt less satisfying than Life Of Brian or Holy Grail. I like rewatching it in chunks, now; I adore the Grim Reaper sketch. At the time I also didn't connect with the Christmas In Heaven ending; now I like it's mid-70's tv show kitschiness. And there's Jane Lees as the dancing angel just to the right of Graham when he gets down the stairs!
3-b) there are bits in there with Gilliam in blackface/stereotype that weren't terribly funny/didn't add much at the time, and are awful to watch now.
4) Absolute flummoxed by the short subject The Crimson Perminant Assurance; at the premiere I went to there was no indication this would be shown, who made it, etc. It was just slightly more off than the usual Python style, and didn't have any Python regulars or 'associates', it has a different tonal quality. Not until I saw the obvious cardboard set buildings, and it got a bit sillier, did I associate it with Terry Gilliam animation style. I don't think it even had credits? It was funny, but a mix of serious and sort-of funny. I had no idea of the history that Grangousier mentions of British cinema, above, so thank you for explaining that bit.
posted by winesong at 11:14 AM on May 31, 2020

Supporting feature; Ads; Trailers; Main Film

No choc ices?
posted by biffa at 1:39 PM on May 31, 2020

A woman in a uniform and blond wig would come out and stand in the front with a tray of choc ices and tubs of ice cream, waiting for people to walk up and buy one.

This was actually quite intimidating on those occasions where there were only three of us in the audience.

No, really.
posted by Grangousier at 2:34 PM on May 31, 2020

We borrowed this over and over as little kids from the video store. The sex education bit was censured but not most of the rest of it and it was an absolute favourite. We used to feed each other a bite at dinner, wheedling “a wafer thin mint”. And singing every sperm and the galaxy song! I tried to show it to my kids but they found it confusing, although they liked the earlier sketches and the Holy Grail. Not a grim enough sense of humour.

Oh! The Protestants across the road. The liver scene is the best but I loved the Protestant wife. And the tiger attacks and the birthday cake in the trenches, I am giggling helplessly as I type this. So very very funny.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:24 PM on May 31, 2020

Yeah, this is one of my favorite Python films, possibly because the context of the four beloved high school friends I watched it with. In retrospect, with regard to the excellent Crimson Permanent Assurance short, it's ironic that one of those close friends is now a senior Wall Street analyst.

"In any case, they would absolutely take me out of the scene as I pondered the chunky 'rrrrr' sounds they'd be making."

No, that was part of the joke — the exagerated American accents. I loved that.

Maybe my favorite bit was:
[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.
That post-Christmas evening in 1983, each of us about 19 years old, we rented and watched The Meaning of Life, Blazing Saddles, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Young Frankenstein. Late in the evening, we were giddy and probably laughed as much quipping during 2001 as the other three fims.

Each of those four people — three who were friends since elementary school — profoundly influenced me in different ways in my life. One is my lifelong closest friend. One was my first tween girlfriend. One introduced me to feminism and essentially instigated my consciousness raising and set me on my lifelong path regards to politics. One was my D&D DM.

Those are all great movies and although several Python films are more highly regarded than Meaning of Life, for me it's a huge fave. I admit, it's partly for these sentimental reasons. That night was 37 years ago and on my deathbed I know it will be among a handful of cherished memories that will give me comfort in my last days.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:20 AM on June 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

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