Life Of Brian

April 10, 2012

When reading the gospels believers ignore the absurdity of the stories because they accept the conceit: a man named Jesus Christ was legitimately the Son of God. Yet to the skeptic Jesus was just another man, like Brian. So it’s only logical to assume that the Life Of Brian is an indirect criticism from the skeptics’ perspective (some very, very funny skeptics). For beyond (and in) the humor of the Life Of Brian is a logical and cogent criticism of the human tendencies (self-delusion, hypocrisy, barbarism, greed, power-hunger) that enable religious worship.

Opening scenes should establish tone (most important), character, setting, theme, and occasionally plot. Life Of Brian’s opening scene is no different. Right from the beginning the tone is set as the usual hyper-serious representations of Christ (and Christian ideals) are mocked:

Melchior: Well, well, we must see him, we have brought presents! Mother: Out!
Gaspar: Gold, frankincense, myrrh!
Mother: Well, why didn’t you say?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here the story of the three Wisemen is ingeniously re-imagined from the perspective of the everyman (Brian and his “Mother”—a continued theme of the film). Accompanying this everyman viewpoint is a more “human” reception for the Wisemen. They’re received not as welcome visitors, but as one would imagine three strange baby-worshipping men would be: as creeps. Without the luster of grace associated with the biblical Mary and Baby Jesus both the Wisemen’s motivation and the actual act of baby worship assumes a farcical dimension:

Melchior: We must pay a homage to him.
Mother: Homage? You’re all drunk! It’s disgusting! Out! Come on, out! Gaspar: No…
Mother: Barge in here with tales about all the ancient fortune-tellers. Come on, out!

Could you imagine any sane mother reacting any differently? I can’t (only other conceivable action would be the mother attacking the three strangers in order to protect the child from the loons). It’s also interesting that only through a re-contextualization of the Wisemen story that the absurdity of the scenario becomes obvious. Now without the imagined luster of godliness and grace associated with the biblical Mary and baby Jesus the scene loses its plausibility (if it ever had any).

We get our introduction to the main character’s— gravelly “mother”, Brian, and importantly his parallel relationship to Jesus (a long shot of a glowing baby and “Mary”—which also gives us a reference towards setting: Bethlehem). Most importantly the opening scene establishes we are getting a different side of a familiar story, a story beyond canonization, and concerned with challenging our worn assumptions.


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