Sunday, April 02, 2006

Monty Python's Meaning of Life

The Monty Python troupe... You either love them or hate them. In my youth, I adored them. I formed and was President of the Monty Python Club (officially the Dead Parrot Society) senior year of high school. I never laughed harder in my life than the first time I saw that bovine get launched in Holy Grail. And who among us will ever forget the penalty for saying “Jehovah” from Life of Brian? But I never liked Meaning of Life.

The Meaning of Life is not horrible... The soundtrack is hilarious and the film has its moments. But overall, I've always thought of this as their big flop. Considering that its artists speak multiple languages, are educated at some of the most prestigious institutions, and have an exceptional knowledge of everything from philosophy to history to art, I hoped for their erudite sophistications to come through in a film which purposes to answer “the big question”. Except for a brief mention of Schopenhauer, my hopes were frustrated. In the end, the answer to the question of the meaning of life is this:
“Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”
I, of all people, know the Pythons better than that. The real meaning of life that the Python's preached--the meaning that is presupposed in the songs, skits, and actual structure of the film itself—is that life is ultimately absurd. The Pythons used comedy as an expression for their view of reality. Since the vast, empty, impersonal cosmos is ultimately greater than man and there is nothing beyond or greater than that, the film focuses on all the different so-called “stages of life” in humanity (from birth to death and the big Christmas party at the end) that are the only things that make man who and what he is. Therefore the meaning is simply to be as you are. A man lives, breathes, shits, and hopefully has some fun along the way, therefore go and do so, amen.

It is ultimately an anti-philosophy or an anti-meaning. The Pythons have failed to find an answer because they never believed there was one. The film is a mockery of life, not an attempt to find its meaning. Along the way, it turns this anti-philosophy on the most special moments of life in order to show them up as fraudulent. Before the credits roll, even the voice of the Pythons is silenced in the great meaningless nothing of space.

To quote an earlier film, "you come from nothing, you're going back to nothing, what have you lost? Nothing."


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