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Pythons 1, Gibson 0

by R.L. Friedman

Yesterday I watched the most staggering biblical epic in the history of cinema. It is a wonderful motion picture that encapsulates the human condition with insight and purpose, and its authenticity inspired me to renew my spiritual allegiance with its intrinsic message: ďAlways look on the bright side of life.Ē The film, of course, is Monty Pythonís Life of Brian Ė and the reader is hereby challenged to cite another movie with as meaningful a tale.

Poor Brian. A thoughtful young man, he wants only to follow his heart, but heís surrounded by political cranks, hypocrites, and religious perverts who believe that meaning is found through shame, guilt, and coercion. Whatís a nice Jewish boy to do?

Mistaken for the long awaited Messiah, Brian has the ethical decency to dissuade his unwanted idolaters with humanismís underlying precept: ďYou donít need to follow me! You donít need to follow anybody! Youíre all individuals.Ē Sadly, the response is typical of both Judeans in 33 C.E. and of moviegoers in 2004: ďYes!Ē the crowd shouts in simultaneous mass hysteria. ďWeíre all individuals!Ē

At least one of the loons has the self-awareness to tack on a meek, ďIím not.Ē

I saw more biblical inanity last week, only this time the culprit was behind the camera. Itís Mel Gibsonís Lethal Weapon V; no, sorry, itís The Passion of Brian, or maybe it was The Passion of Christ, in which the purpose of Christianity correlates to the number of lacerations on Jesusí body. One might imagine that, if Jesus had died swiftly, Gibson would be at a loss to uncover any purpose in Christianity.

This most Christian of film stars has appeared in numerous religious films with such Gospel-inspired titles as Payback and Conspiracy Theory. Still, itís a shame Mel didnít reference the Python film. Letís compare:

  1. Brianís miracles are nonexistent, and he never claims otherwise. Gibsonís Jesus performs miracles for a select few, offers no proof to the general populace, but (Gibson believes) demands that everybody on the planet believe in his capabilities or suffer eternal damnation.
  2. Brian attempts to escape his admirers rather than live a lie. Gibsonís Jesus demands that his followers subjugate themselves to his word rather than use their gifts of doubt and reason.
  3. Brian is victimized by the office politics of his longwinded, self-absorbed compatriots. Gibson lays the blame for Jesusí demise on the sin of every human being who ever lived or will someday live.
  4.  Brian was punished by the ruthless Pontius Pilate of history. Gibsonís Pontius is a sweet-as-honey do-gooder, forced by his (captive) populace to do what he (as ruler) hopes not to do. Go figure.

The historical Jesus might have been a noble man wholly devoid of narcissism, unlike his present-day interpreter. It is doubtful Gibson has read Elaine Pagels or modern biblical research or, for that matter, a history book that might dare contradict his belief in the sanctity of the Gospels. For Gibson, insight and common sense are nullified by the New Testament. For Monty Python, the approach is humanely opposite.

For his film, Gibson has cherry-picked the most guilt-strewn passages from the Gospels. When those werenít sufficient for his purposes, he invented a few scenes such as a Gospel-free moment when the chief Jewish priest taunts Jesus on the cross. Even more startling is Gibsonís depiction of Jesus as the only un-Semitic looking man in all of Judea. This is quite distinct from Pythonís Brian, who is all but obsessive about his eastern-Mediterranean appearance.

What we are really witnessing in Gibsonís flick is the cursed life of a conflicted movie star whose parents had the nerve to name him Mel. Much has been made over Gibsonís father, a Holocaust denier who has been quoted as saying that Jews want a single government to control the world. To which all decent people should respond, ďMel Gibson is no more responsible for the sins of his father than the child of a Jew or Roman for the crucifixion of Jesus, let alone the eightieth generation down the pike.Ē Let us hereby absolve Mel and his children and their children for the next two thousand years. The fact that Mel denies anti-Semitism in the same conversations in which he implies that Jews have a blood libel and will fry in hell should not dissuade us from adopting a more open-minded viewpoint. After all, Gibson also insinuates that Protestants and billions of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Taoists will burn as well.

Oh, give us Brian who believes all humans can find meaning from within.

One might feel sorry for Gibson, not merely because of his obsession with violence or his implied claim that the Holy Ghost co-directed the movie (and without a Screen Actors Guild card). No, the true sadness is this: Gibson is a professed Three Stooges freak, once going so far as to produce a television movie about their lives. Surely the day his spiritual crisis began is when he realized that his beloved Moe, Larry, and Curly (to say nothing of Shemp) are rotting in hell due to a two-thousand-year-old blood libel. Perhaps Moe and Curly Howard (born Horwitz) and Larry Fine (born Louis Fienberg) were poking each other in the eye out of Semitic guilt. One doubts whether Melís original Passion script depicted Curly as Pontius Pilate; adding all those nyak-nyak-nyaks would have meant going too far, even for Mel. But it wouldnít have been any less accurate than the final result.

Incidentally, given Melís claim that the Holy Ghost was complicit in rewriting sacred texts, we must presume that half of the profits from The Passion will fall into the churchís do-good coffers and not Melís pockets. Surely that is at the forefront of his mind as he prepares to celebrate this yearís Passover (assuming Mel celebrates in the manner of Jesus).

We should have seen it coming. For twenty years Mel has repeatedly warned us against that most vile people who, in fact, did control much of the civilized world with a single government: the English. It started with Gallipoli, which scratched the historical record in favor of the myth the ANZACs did all the dying while the British sipped tea behind the Dardenelles. Assumedly this 1981 Peter Weir film, in which Gibson was a lead actor, influenced the young Mel as much as the Gospels did (both the King James version and the one unspooling in his febrile imagination), for he devoted twenty additional years to finishing off the vile Queen-loving cheddar-eaters. Come to think of it, perhaps his film career has been a subtle revenge on Monty Python for their heretical viewpoint. For in Braveheart (1995) his hearty Scots defeated the heinous English, preventing a life of, uh, jury systems, civil law, and prosperity. Mel was drawn and quartered to preserve the sanctity of tribal rule, and he succeeded (ignoring the fact the Scots joined England in the early eighteenth century after their economy rotted). In The Patriot (2000), once again historical accuracy took a hiatus for the greater good of putting those conniving, world-dominating Brits where they belong, back in England to perfect their heinous plans to subjugate Melís beloved Australia to common law and political moderation. Next up, one presumes, is a remake of Zulu in which Mel dons tribal war paint and disembowels an entire garrison of British humanists, and a Ulysses in which Mel plays Bloom, a Jewish convert to pre-Vatican II Catholicism, who wanders around Dublin in June 1904, eviscerating the gay English one pub at a time. Mel will be drawn and quartered in both movies. Disemboweling equipment and stout mugs will be on sale in the lobby.

One wonders how Mel feels about the current head of the Tory party, Michael Howard, who is a (gasp!) English Jew.

Of course Gibson is that most deified of creatures, a film director, so no one had the temerity to whisper that Melís vision of Judea is far less credible than Monty Pythonís. For those of us who believe that a ruthless, vengeful god is a human creation, his movie is irrelevant, and Life of Brian beckons.

But for readers who believe life is shame in action, that our lives should be centered on guilt, misery, and subjugation, Gibsonís film is for you. And you may ask yourself as you walk out of the theater: where is the nearest church?

However, humanists will ask: where is the Church? Why have Protestant authorities turned a blind eye to Gibsonís machinations? Where are the post-Vatican II Catholics to protest Melís retro-lunacy? Have they reverted to the horror of a finger-to-the-wind theocracy that is so pleased by this filmís popularity they have ignored the very theology they claim rules their lives and should rule ours?

One wonders if Monty Pythonís Life of Brian could be made today. Itís too honest, too insightful about manís frivolous need to ram opinions down othersí throats. It finds joy in our common fate rather than subscribe to the cruelest interpretation of manís purpose. Monty Python made a daring film whose ultimate message is tolerance and spiritual self-sufficiency. And for that reason, humanists should treasure it.


R.L. Friedman studied the humanities at Johns Hopkins and finance at Wharton, proof that university admissions directors drink to excess. He is currently working on this sentence.


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