Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Terry Jones
Produced by John Goldstone
Written by Monty Python
Starring Graham Chapman
John Cleese
Terry Gilliam
Eric Idle
Terry Jones
Michael Palin
Music by John Du Prez
Cinematography Peter Hannan
Roger Pratt
Editing by Julian Doyle
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) 31 March 1983 (1983-03-31)
Running time Theatrical cut
107 minutes
Director's Cut
112 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $9 million
Box office $18,059,552

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life is a 1983 comedy film by the Monty Python team. Unlike Holy Grail and Life of Brian, this movie's two immediate predecessors, which each told a single, more or less coherent story, The Meaning of Life returns to the sketch comedy format of the troupe's original television series (and their first movie), loosely structured as a series of comic sketches about the various stages of life.



The film is divided into chapters, though the chapters themselves often contain several more-or-less unconnected sketches.

  • The Crimson Permanent Assurance, an introductory film directed by Terry Gilliam. In a satire on cold corporate culture, elderly office clerks rebel against their emotionlessly efficient, yuppie corporate masters at 'The Permanent Assurance Company', commandeer their building, and turn it into a pirate ship, raiding financial districts in numerous big cities, before falling off the edge of the world.
  • The feature film properly opens with the human faces of the six Pythons placed on the bodies of fish who are swimming aimlessly in a tank at a restaurant. Upon seeing that one of their fellow fish is being served to a customer they begin to engage in a brief philosophical conversation that is immediately cut short by the abrupt intrusion of the title sequence. This includes the film's theme song, sung by Eric Idle putting on a French accent, accompanied with an establishing animated opening segment that does not include any actual credits.
  • "Part I: The Miracle Of Birth", comes in two parts. The first involves a woman in labour who is ignored by doctors (Cleese and Chapman), nurses, and eventually the hospital's administrator (Palin) as they drag in more and more elaborate equipment, including their pride and joy, "the machine that goes PING!". The second part, subtitled "The Third World", is set in Sheffield, Yorkshire. It depicts a Roman Catholic couple (Palin and Jones), who can no longer afford to feed their many children. This has arisen because their religion forbids birth control. They are forced to sell their many offspring for use in medical experiments. The skit culminates in the musical number "Every Sperm is Sacred". This satire on the Catholic Church's attitudes toward contraception and masturbation is followed by one on Protestants: Chapman plays the husband of the household next door, who lectures his wife on their church's tolerance toward having intercourse for fun, although his frustrated spouse (Idle) points out that they never do.
  • "Part II: Growth And Learning" features a group of public schoolboys attending an Anglican church service (conducted by Cleese), which commences with a nonsensical Old Testament passage followed by a hymn entitled "Oh Lord, Please Don't Burn Us". In a subsequent class, they watch in boredom as their teacher (Cleese) gives a sex education lesson, by physically demonstrating techniques with his wife (Patricia Quinn). Later, there is a rugby match of students vs. masters, the ending of which overtly segues into a battlefield in the middle of a war.
  • In "Part III: Fighting Each Other", a World War I officer (Jones) attempting to rally his men to find cover during an attack is hindered by their insistence on celebrating his birthday, complete with presents and cake. This leads into a lecture on the positive qualities of the military. A blustery army sergeant (Palin) attempts to drill a platoon of men, dismissing each to pursue leisure activities, then complains about today's poor military force. There follows a long sketch set during the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War in Natal, in which a devastating attack by Zulus is dismissed in lieu of a far more pressing matter: One of the officers (Idle) has had his leg bitten off during the night. The military doctor (Chapman) hypothesises that a tiger might be the perpetrator. To recover the leg, a hunting party is formed, which later encounters two suspicious men (Idle and Palin) dressed as two halves of a tiger suit, who attempt to assert their innocence in the matter through a succession of increasingly feeble excuses as to why they are dressed as a tiger.
  • "The Middle Of The Film" is introduced by Gilliam dressed as a black man and Palin in drag. This leads to a surreal sketch called "Find The Fish", ostensibly set in a mansion, but in reality comprising a makeshift living room on the operations floor of the former Battersea Power Station. Here a drag queen (Chapman), a gangly playboy (Jones), and an elephant-headed butler challenge the audience. The elephant-headed butler is an unused creature from Gilliam's earlier film Time Bandits.[1] The "Fish" the characters are referring to is the "Fisheye lens" used in filming the scene. After this, the fish in the tank briefly return, praising the previous scene and commenting on the film so far.
  • "Part IV: Middle Age" features a middle-aged American couple (Idle as the wife and Palin as the husband) taking a vacation to a bizarre resort, where they are greeted by M'Lady Joeline (Gilliam dressed in drag) and are shown to an authentic medieval dungeon with Hawaiian music. Having nothing to talk about, they order a conversation from the waiter (Cleese with an American accent) about the "meaning of life". Being apparently quite intellectually uncurious, they send it back, complaining "this conversation isn't very good."
  • In "Part V: Live Organ Transplants", two paramedics (Chapman and Cleese) arrive at the doorstep of a card-carrying organ donor, Mr. Brown (Gilliam), to claim his liver. Still being alive, he initially refuses. Not to be deterred, the paramedics burst through the door and brutally disembowel him, removing the organ "under condition of death". Mrs. Brown (Jones) goes to make a cup of tea for one of the paramedics, who asks her if she'd consider donating her liver. She is unsure. To convince her, the paramedic introduces her to the man in a pink suit (Idle) who lives inside her refrigerator to sing her a song about the wonders of the universe, resulting in her realising the small importance of her existence and agreeing to the request. Meanwhile, at the headquarters of the Very Big Corporation of America, a businessman summarizes his two-part report on the meaning of life: the human soul must be "brought into existence by a process of guided self-observation", which rarely happens; and that "people aren't wearing enough hats." This is followed by an attempt by the "Crimson Permanent Assurance" to take over the film proper, which is dealt with by dropping a large skyscraper on the Assurance building.
    Mr. Creosote (Terry Jones), with the maître d' (John Cleese, right) and second waiter (Eric Idle, left)
  • Part VI: The Autumn Years", is also split into two stages. The first is introduced with Eric Idle as a Noel Coward-esque fop performing the song "Isn't It Awfully Nice to Have a Penis?". Following this, Mr. Creosote, an impossibly fat man (Jones), waddles into a decorous restaurant, swears at the French waiter (Cleese), and vomits copiously on himself, the menu, a cleaning woman, and into buckets if available. After making room, he eats an enormous meal, and finally, despite protestations that he is now full, he is persuaded to eat one last "wafer-thin" (Pronounced "Waffeur-thin.") mint, whereupon he explodes, showering the restaurant with human entrails and digestive juices. Many of the other patrons are so disgusted and horrified that they themselves throw up. After this comes the second stage of this part, "Part VI-B", which contains two philosophical monologues. The first is delivered by a cleaning lady (Jones), entirely in rhyme, culminating with "I feel that life's a game, you sometimes win or lose / And though I may be down right now, at least I don't work for Jews". Her reward for this offensive comment is to have one of the buckets of vomit dumped on her head by the waiter, who then offers an apology for her racism. The second is delivered by Gaston, another French waiter (Idle), who leads the camera on a long walk through the streets to the house where he grew up, and delivers his personal philosophy: "The world is a beautiful place. You must go into it and love everyone. Try to make everyone happy, and bring peace and contentment everywhere you go. And so I became a waiter.... Well, it's not much of a philosophy I know, but well... fuck you! I can live my own life in my own way if I want to! Fuck off!" The scene consists of a long take, starting from the cleaning lady's entire poem, following Gaston downstairs and outside.
  • "Part VII: Death" opens with a funeral setup. After this, we see Arthur Charles Herbert Runcie MacAdam Jarrett (Chapman), a criminal convicted of making gratuitous sexist jokes in a film, killed in a manner of his choosing: He is chased off a cliff by topless women in brightly-coloured G-strings & crash helmets. A brief animation of suicidal leaves falling off a tree leads into "Social Death", in which a group of people at an isolated country house are visited by the Grim Reaper (Cleese), who knocks on the door. Not knowing who he is, the dinner guests spend a lot of time arguing with him before finally being persuaded to shuffle off their mortal coils. Heaven turns out to be the resort from Part IV. When they enter, many of the characters from the film (the Roman Catholic children, the topless women, the liver-less Brown couple, Mr. Creosote, etc.) are already seated, and all are then serenaded by a Tony Bennett-like lounge singer (Chapman) with the monumentally cheesy song "Christmas In Heaven", a parody of Las Vegas-style shows, complete with women wearing plastic breasts in Santa Claus outfits (one of which was the actress Jane Leeves in one of her first roles). The gleaming-toothed lounge singer tells all those present that in Heaven, it's Christmas every day, forever. (According to the DVD commentary, the women were supposed to be topless, but costume designer James Acheson stated that fake, uniformly-sized breasts would be funnier than the disparately-sized natural breasts of the dancers, and the women would be more at ease wearing the topless costumes.)
  • "The End Of The Film", in which the female character from "The Middle of the Film" (Palin) concludes the matter by reading out the "meaning of life" (introducing it by saying "It's nothing very special"):

    Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.

She finishes by promising gratuitous pictures of penises "to annoy the censors and to hopefully spark some sort of controversy" before ranting about how no one wants "family entertainment", and just want to see gratuitous violence.

  • Finally, the film ends with the animated flowers and foot from the title sequence of Flying Circus (itself rife with the aforementioned gratuitous phallic imagery)—together with a portion of the theme music, John Philip Sousa's Liberty Bell, playing on a TV set drifting off into space, before the "Galaxy Song" plays over the end credits, ending in a letter of thanks to all the fish who participated in the film, and a wish for peace and a better future for fish everywhere.


  • Graham Chapman as Chairman (also in Crimson) / Fish #1 / Obstetrician / Harry Blackitt/ Wymer / Hordern / General / Coles / Narrator #2 / Dr. Livingstone / Transvestite / Eric / Guest #1 / Arthur Jarrett / Tony Bennett Lounge Singer
  • John Cleese as Fish #2 / Dr. Spencer / Humphrey Williams / Sturridge / Ainsworth / Waiter / Eric's Assistant / Maître D' / Grim Reaper
  • Terry Gilliam as Window Washer (in Crimson) / Fish #4 / Walters / Middle of the Film Announcer / M'Lady Joeline / Mr. Brown / Howard Katzenberg
  • Eric Idle as Gunther (also in Crimson) / Fish #3 / Gaston / 'Meaning of Life' Singer / Mr. Moore / Mrs. Blackitt / Watson / Blackitt / Atkinson / Perkins / Soldier Victim #3 / Man in Front End of Tiger Suit / Mrs. Hendy / Man in Pink / Noël Coward / Angela
  • Terry Jones as Bert (also in Crimson) / Fish #6 / Mum / Priest / (Capt.) Biggs / Sergeant / Man with Bendy Arms / Mrs. Brown / Mr. Creosote / Maria / Leaf Father (voice) / Fiona Portland-Smythe
  • Michael Palin as Window Washer (in Crimson) / Harry (also in Crimson) / Fish #5 / Mr. Pycroft / Dad / Narrator #1 / Chaplain / Carter / Spadger / Regimental Seargeant Major / Pakenham-Walsh / Man in Rear End of tiger suit / Female TV Presenter / Mr. Marvin Hendy / Governor / Leaf Son (voice) / Debbie Katzenberg
  • Carol Cleveland as Mrs.Wiliams
  • Patricia Quinn as Headmaster's wife
  • Mark Holmes as A Severed Head
  • Simon Jones as Chadwick / Jeremy Portland-Smyth
  • Matt Frewer as one of the yuppies in The Crimson Permanent Assurance segment


The film opened in North America on 31 March 1983. At 257 theatres, it grossed US $1,987,853 ($7,734 per screen) in its opening weekend. It played at 554 theatres at its widest point, and its total North American gross was US$14,929,552. It currently has a score of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.

In 2003, a Special Edition DVD was released, with director's audio commentary, deleted scenes, and behind-the-scenes documentaries (both real and spoofed). The DVD also featured a soundtrack for the lonely, which is an audio commentary of a completely disgusting man (Michael Palin) who is sitting watching the film in his flat, throughout the commentary he usually picks up the phone and talks to friends (Terry Jones and Eric Idle), passes gas and talks under his voice.

The original tagline read "It took God six days to create the Earth, and Monty Python just 90 minutes to screw it up", but the length of the film is 107 minutes (the film only has a length of 90 minutes if The Crimson Permanent Assurance is counted separately). In the 2005 DVD release of the film, the tagline is corrected to read "It took God six days to create the Earth, and Monty Python just 1 hour and 48 minutes to screw it up".


The Meaning of Life was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival.[2]

Censorship and ratings

Ireland banned the film on its original release, as it had previously done with Monty Python's Life of Brian, but later, rated it 15 when it was released on video. In the United Kingdom, the film was rated 18 when released in the cinema and on its first release on video, but was re-rated 15 in 2000. In the United States, the film is rated R.


External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
The Night of the Shooting Stars
Grand Prix Spécial du Jury, Cannes
Succeeded by
Diary for My Children

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