PERFORMING ARTS

A Book About the Film Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life: All the References from Americans to Zulu Nation

Rowman & Littlefield. Aug. 2020. 544p. ISBN 9781538115961. $55. FILM
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In 1983, British comedy troupe Monty Python released their third and final theatrical release, Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life, a series of sketches tracing life from birth to death and beyond. Their humor was satirical and surreal, laced with cultural and historical references and clearly written by smart people who enjoyed being very silly. Larsen (A Book About the Film Monty Python’s Life of Brian) meticulously dissects the film scene by scene (and often line by line), delving into what topics, including boarding schools or tinned salmon, would have meant to the Pythons and also how they would have been received by 1980s film audiences. A sketch on the Zulu War, for example, would have called to mind the twilight of the British Empire, the previous year’s Falklands War, and recent earnest films about the war. Larsen isn’t seeking to amplify the film’s humor; instead he’s edifying the reader. Beyond capturing the zeitgeist through the use of contemporary references, he uses scenes from the film as entry points to limn British history. He admits the Pythons may not have always intended allegory, but Larsen can use their material to discuss the austerity of postwar Britain, the rise of Margaret Thatcher, or the coal mining industry.
VERDICT Larsen teeters between exhaustive and exhausting in this comprehensive approach to drawing meaning from The Meaning of Life.

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