The genius is in how the film makes itself comical. On one hand the action amuses by echoing real life, the behaviour of everyman, the petty squabbles and insults, the minor concerns and hopes. Unlike other pseudo-historic films, where every character seems popped from the same ancient mould, Life of Brian presents the flip-side, the grimy underside of Jerusalem; what other movie gives you stall traders arguing over haggling etiquette or a prisoner who complains that he's not being crucified? Now that's funny. Equally the dialogue sparkles because it sounds uncannily in tune with how the characters might communicate, only heightened to amplify the craziness. Endlessly repeatable one-liners are liberally embedded like silver sixpences, yet with sufficient intelligence to leave the flow undisturbed. Whisk in split-second timing by the cast and you've got a script rich enough to stand multiple viewing.
In fact the group-created Life of Brian is surprisingly tight for a comedy, managing to underpin its farcical accumulation of events by a credible momentum. Each step that Brian takes towards becoming an unwilling false Messiah seems reasonable in isolation, yet on a larger scale the lunacy of his martyrdom is impossible to ignore. As hard as Brian tries to escape, destiny yanks him back with a bungee-like tenacity; every experienced follower has been round before and knows exactly how to parry each one of Brian's arguments. It's at this stage, about halfway through, that Life of Brian evolves into a coherence greater than any accumulation of witty puns. Its origami folds unclasp to reveal a satire of all crowd-pleasing, rabble-rousing puppeteers and, further, the complicity of sycophants in hoisting them to such prominence.
Wrapped around this reduced saga, handing us a warm blanket of authenticity, sits Terry Gilliam's vibrant art direction. Making Tunisia his canvas, Gilliam streams the cast through ochre-baked streets and dank sewage ducts, drawing parallels between past and present. His vision chimes with our unformed sense of how the city might have existed, so strong in tone that even the random appearance of an alien spacecraft fails to perturb. Life of Brian really has strength in depth, from the visuals and writing to the performances themselves. Chapman, Cleese and Michael Palin play a multiplicity of central roles, each one given a little burst of talent to make it individual. Supporting them, Gilliam, Eric Idle and Terry Jones deliver characters slanted at slightly different aspects; all benefit from their years spent working as a team.
However, enough about the film, what about the outrage once generated within the fervent Christian community by Life of Brian? Well, it takes but a single frame to see that they were right. This film is certainly about Jesus, though not in the one-dimensional way imagined by these publicity-seeking detractors. No, the film reflects upon Jesus by suggesting that he was just one of numerous religious cranks eking a living at the time (much like today, perhaps). Just as Galilao pointed out how the Earth might not actually be at the centre of the Universe, the Python crew playfully displaces Christ from his singular position. Beyond this they take on so-called believers who can't be bothered to listen to their leader's message, instead looking to run their lives by the rod of stock sound bites. No wonder their not-so-innocent, non-blasphemer satire hit a nerve!
In totality Life of Brian surely rates as the most consistent and caustic Monty Python movie, even though others have sharper flashes of brilliance. Terry Jones' direction enhances the intrinsic humour of Brian's situation, balancing the need to supply more or less continuous comedy against the frailer desire for fictional continuity. He is greatly aided in this quest by Julián Doyle's ability to edit the varied material shot by photographer Peter Biziou; their invaluable efforts ensure that what was once in the Python's collective mind successfully transmits to the screen. Given the creators' penchant for a bring-and-buy sale of sight gags, sophisticated writing, bawdy slapstick and erudite commentary, this was probably no easy task.