Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life (Special Edition DVD)
- A Community Grade
Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life hit theaters in 1983, when the troupe was falling apart and both the surrealist sketch-comedy movement and the midnight-movie craze it helped pioneer were running out of steam. Yet the Pythons had stored up enough respectability to be granted a large Hollywood budget for The Meaning Of Life, which earned good reviews from mainstream critics and even won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, where a stunned audience made snap comparisons to Luis Buñuel and Jacques Tati. Those plaudits are unusual, given that The Meaning Of Life is the seamiest of the Python features, and represents the troupe's most uneven work since its television days. Essentially a series of dark, Python-esque sketches linked by the progression of humanity from birth to death, The Meaning Of Life finds co-directors Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam letting impressive (and oppressive) style overwhelm the nimble humor of the Python past. What saves the film are the polished performances of Jones, Gilliam, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin, all of whom had been on stage and screen for so long by that point that they were capable of leaping in and out of characters and delivering impeccably timed speeches in extended takes. Even when the jokes are overly familiar–predicated on skewering such common Python targets as wimpy religious leaders, the pompous upper crust, and dim working-class slobs–they're still recited with confidence, and with a trained ear for the sound of human self-delusion. The new double-disc DVD of The Meaning Of Life features a comprehensive making-of documentary, as well as some amusing deleted scenes (a few of which have been reintegrated into the film) and a handful of lame new comedy pieces that are too self-deprecating and toothless to belong to the Python tradition. More substantial is the commentary track, on which Jones and Gilliam make a case for The Meaning Of Life as the group's collaborative pinnacle. From a comedy point of view, or even a "comment on life" point of view, they're wrong: Both Monty Python And The Holy Grail and Monty Python's Life Of Brian are insightful where The Meaning Of Life is nasty, and sidesplitting where the later film is merely amusing. But from a cinematic point of view, Jones and Gilliam may be right. On the DVD, Idle calls The Meaning Of Life "a punk film," and there's an element of rage in its obsession with sexual anxiety, dismemberment, and bodily fluids. From the grisly scene of live birth in a sterile hospital, where the doctors care more about the machines than the patient, to the grotesquely obese Mr. Creosote, who binges and purges simultaneously, The Meaning Of Life is unsparing and elaborate in its vision of humanity at its foulest.