Movie Review

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

It took God six days to create the earth, and Monty Python just 90 minutes to screw it up.
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life Movie Poster

US Release Date: 03-31-1983

Directed by: Terry Jones


  • Graham Chapman
  • Various Parts
  • John Cleese
  • Various Parts
  • Terry Gilliam
  • Various Parts
  • Eric Idle
  • Various Parts
  • Terry Jones
  • Various Parts
  • Michael Palin
  • Various Parts
  • Carol Cleveland
  • Various Parts
  • Simon Jones
  • Various Parts
  • Jane Leeves
  • Dancer
  • Patricia Quinn
  • Mrs. Williams
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: January 8th, 2009
John Cleese and Terry Jones in Monty Python's Meaning of Life.

John Cleese and Terry Jones in Monty Python's Meaning of Life.

It's hard to believe that the Monty Python comedy troupe only made 4 movies. The first in 1971 and their last in 1983. They moved on to many different solo projects and oftentimes two or more of them would appear in something together, but this was the last official Monty Python movie. Like their first one, And Now For Something Completely Different, this is a sketch movie and also like that first one, it contains some hilarious scenes and also some not quite so hilarious scenes.

All of the Python movies, even Life of Brian, were sketch movies, but in Brian and to a lesser extent in Holy Grail they disguised that fact by tying all of the sketches together with common characters and at least a sense of a plot. Here the only thing connecting the sketches is that they're all supposed to be about the stages of development and have something to do with the meaning of life. To be honest this never really works and is a very light framework to hang the movie on.

As a whole the movie isn't particularly well structured, but individually most of the sketches are laugh-out-loud funny. The opening scene with the baby being delivered and the doctors being more concerned about the machinery is one of my favorites as is the final scene where death shows up at a dinner party to take them all away. In between there are quite a few gems as well. The fattest man in the world, Mr. Creosote is disgustingly funny and the sex education class is another classic.

The movie is also a musical and contains at least one great production number and several catchy tunes, mostly courtesy of Eric Idle. Every Sperm is Sacred is an old Hollywood production number seen through the eyes of Python. The Galaxy Song is not only catchy, but quite factual.

This was the Python's only Studio picture and it's the most expensive they ever produced. About the only real effect this has on the movie is that it looks good. The costumes, the sets all look first rate, but both their earlier films were made cheaper and are better movies, which shows you how much budget really has to do with quality.

Connected to this movie is a short about Pirate Accountants directed by Terry Gilliam. I might offend some Python purists by saying that when you watch The Meaning of Life go ahead and skip the Gilliam short. Oh sure, watch it once if you've never seen it, but watch it separate from the main feature. Putting the two together makes for too long an experience and they really aren't very compatible in style.

The passing of Graham Chapman in 1989 guaranteed that there would never be another Python movie, so we have to make do with the 4 movies they made. This might not be the best of them, but that's like saying one of my four diamonds has a small flaw in it.

Reviewed on: August 24th, 2012
Pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space, cause there's bugger all down here on Earth.

Pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space, cause there's bugger all down here on Earth.

For me, Monty Python has always represented the British sense of humor.  Their jokes were absurd and intellectual at the same time.  Monty Python often made social commentary and never so much as in The Meaning of Life.  Social inequality and religion are their prime targets here. 

The first skit has a woman about to give birth and she anxiously asks the doctor what she should do.  The arrogant doctor responds in an annoyed tone, "Nothing!  You're not qualified."  We then have a scene where we meet a dirt poor Catholic family with countless children.  It ends with a middle class, middle aged Protestant man commenting that every time a Catholic couple has sex they have a baby.  His wife then notes that it is the same for them as they have two children and have only had sexual intercourse twice.

At a school we see a rugby match between younger boys and Masters.  The younger boys get ruthlessly beat.  The most obvious clash of social standing is in the scene with the British army fighting the Zulu war.  Soldiers are being killed right and left while the officers go unscathed, drinking brandy from crystal glasses.  One soldier comments that at home he would be hanged for all the killing he has done, but here in a war he gets a medal.

As they proved with The Life of Brian, Monty Python is religiously offensive.  At a school, Michael Palin sarcastically leads a prayer beginning with, "God, ooh you are so big."  Later, a cleaning woman shares her philosophy in a speech which ends with, "Cause you see I feel that life's a game.  You sometimes win or lose.  And though I may be down right now at least I don't work for Jews."  

It actually makes an effort to say something philosophical with such conversations as man cannot develop a soul because he is too easily distracted.  And this advice, " 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."  All of the thought provoking lines are undercut though, by such scenes as the fat man vomiting on everything.

As Scott wrote, this is a sketch movie, with some of the scenes being funnier than others.  My favorite being the scene of Death interrupting dinner. "It's a mister Death or something.  He's come about the reaping." and my least being "Marching up and down the square."   If you like the British sense of humor, you will love, at least some of,  Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.

Reviewed on: September 25th, 2012
Terry Jones, Graham Chapman and an elephant headed butler in Monty Python's Meaning of Life.

Terry Jones, Graham Chapman and an elephant headed butler in Monty Python's Meaning of Life.

Appropriately, after two previous films where they attempted to have a somewhat cohesive plot, the Python gang returned to the purity of their sketch comedy roots for their final movie.  Meaning of Life is not only their biggest budgeted film, it is also their most comically audacious. In terms of sex (the sex education class during chapter II: Growth and Learning) and gore (check out the Live Organ Transplants chapter and the fattest man in the world restaurant sketch) they pushed the envelope farther than they ever had before. It's almost as if they knew this would be their last movie as a complete comedy troupe, and so they tried to top everything they had done up till then.

As far as each of the six Python's individual contributions are concerned, this is their most even movie. The jokes are spread around fairly without any one member stealing the show (although if any one of them did it would have to be Graham Chapman).

It's true that some of the sketches work better than others. But they cover so much ground, so quickly that none of the sketches outwear their welcome (including the “marching up and down the square” bit, which only lasts a few minutes). Some of the funniest bits are quite brief and also the most surreal. Eric Idle as a Cole Porter/Noel Coward type singing "Isn't It Awfully Nice to Have a Penis?" is one such moment, as is the incredibly bizarre scene where Graham Chapman (in drag) and Terry Jones (in a tuxedo with long fake arms) recite a sort of tone poem about fish and are joined by a large muppet-like elephant-headed butler. “Oh, fishy, fishy, fishy, fish.” (see photo) And who but Monty Python would dare to have an adorably innocent little girl sing these lyrics in a sweetly angelic voice? “Every sperm is sacred. Every sperm is great. If a sperm gets wasted, God gets quite irate.”

I first watched this movie nearly 30 years ago and I hadn't seen it in years but I still remembered several of its funniest lines. Graham Chapman as a doctor speaking to a woman who has just given birth. New Mother: “Is it a boy or a girl?” Doctor: “I think it's a bit early to start imposing roles on it, don't you?” Or John Cleese as the sex education teacher who, during a lecture on foreplay, asks his class about the best ways to get those vaginal juices flowing. “Yes. Good. Nibbling the earlobe, uh, kneading the buttocks, and so on and so forth. So, we have all these possibilities before we stampede towards the clitoris, Watson.”

My absolute favorite bit was a scene I had completely forgotten about. After the fat man explodes (in what is still one of the most disgusting scenes ever committed to film) Eric Idle, as a French waiter named Gaston, invites the camera to follow him. It does so and after a long walk we arrive at a quaint country house. Gaston looks directly into the camera and offers his own personal philosophy, “You see that house? That is where I was born. My mother said to me, "Gaston. The world is a beautiful place, and you must spread joy and contentment everywhere you go". And so I became a waiter... (pause) Well, I know it is not a great philosophy but... (looks offended) Well, fuck you. I can live my life in my own way if I want to (walking away in disgust) Fuck off. Don't come following me.” Something about the hurt expression on Idle's face just cracks me up.

As a fan of the sitcom Hot in Cleveland, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this was the movie debut of Jane Leeves. She has an uncredited bit as one of the dancers in the climactic scene set in a Las Vegas lounge act inspired Heaven, where many of the various characters from the film come together.

Monty Python's Meaning of Life holds up well today. It remains one hilariously intelligent satire.

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