- Gareth Crook
The Meaning of Life (1983) - 7/10
I’m finishing my mini Python triple header with one that I’ve never seen before. 1983’s The Meaning of Life. I point out the date as it feels significant to note that we’re now in the 80s where Python has become not only loved and respected, but it’s cast are household names. Cleese in particular. The budgets are bigger and so I suspect was the expectation. I’m nearly 40 years late to this one of course, so perspectives have shifted, but the expectation is certainly still there. It’s much more ambitious in its cinematic vision. That’s to say it’s much more slick and deftly put together. The opening pre titles scene of oppressed office workers revolting is grander than anything I’ve seen Python attempt to this point and has Gilliam’s inventiveness stamped all over it. Massive set piece sequences, costume, props. It still looks good now, but this would’ve been pretty cutting edge at the time and I can’t imagine how long it took them to map each Python’s face on to CG fish! It’s still silly satire of course, but it feels a lot more grown up. There are a few troublesome tropes that have either aged badly or shouldn’t have been there to begin with. Anyway, what’s life all about? Well according to Python that depends on which class your born to, what religions you subscribe to and societies systems, conventions, the north south divide oh and machines that go “bing!”. It does feel like they’ve drawn up a list of stuff to tackle and tick each box as the sketches progress. I say sketches, that might make them sound like stuff from the TV show, but honestly the scope of this is pretty bewildering. You’d probably struggle with getting John Cleese’s school master sex education lesson on the Beeb in the 80s for starters. This matter of fact comedy is just brilliant though. It feels all wrong and it’s very childish, but it’s very funny. Not quite as funny as Palin’s sergeant major, he’s a habit of stealing every scene he’s in. I’ll admit I think Palin is my favourite Python, that’s quite a statement really. I mean there’s no weak link is there. The ‘middle part of the film’ sequence is wonderfully bonkers, like a surreal nightmare, before the entire cast return as the fish in the tank wondering if there’ll actually be any talk of the meaning of life. Well it’s fleeting, but Eric Idle coming out of fridge to explain how small and insignificant we are in the universe may help to at least set the tone. It’s probably best that way, by the time we get to Part IV with the rather grotesque restaurant scene I’m struggling with it a bit. Things do improve though with a rare prolonged Gilliam sighting as he and others get philosophical round the dinner table with The Grim Reaper, before we whisked off to heaven for a batshit showtime finale. All in all it’s good… but it feels a bit bloated and it’s not The Holy Grail.