When people accused “Life of Brian” of blasphemy, Monty Python wrote this letter

Neil Patrick
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The British movie, “Life of Brian”, which was written and starred the group of Monty Python, contained themes of religious mockery that were very controversial in 1979 when it was released. Some religious groups protested and accused the group of blasphemy.

Some religious groups protested and accused the group of blasphemy.

Sign protesting Life of Brians Photo Credit

Sign protesting Life of Brians Photo Credit

In the United Kingdom, 39 groups either imposed and X rating or outright banned the movie, which prevented the movie from being shown at all. In its original version, it carried the AA rating. Below is the rating system of the British Board of Film Classifications (BBFC):

U (1912-present) – This stood for ‘Universal’ and denoted that a film was suitable for everyone.

A (1912-1982) – This stood for ‘Adult’, and denoted that the film might contain material unsuitable for children. From 1923 to 1970 children were required to be accompanied by adults. The A certificate was replaced by the PG certificate in 1982.

H (1932-1951) – This stood for ‘Horror’, and was largely restricted to that genre. It was advisory, but many local authorities used it as an excuse to ban children under sixteen. It was replaced by the X certificate in 1951.

X (1951-1982) – This was the first BBFC certificate that explicitly excluded people under a certain age limit, in this case sixteen. The limit was raised to eighteen in 1970, and the X certificate was replaced by the 18 certificate in 1982.

AA (1970-1982) – This excluded people under the age of fourteen. It was replaced by the 15 certificate in 1982.

PG (1982-present) – Replacing the old A certificate, this stood for ‘Parental Guidance’. Although anyone could be admitted, PG certificate films contained an implicit warning that the film might contain material unsuitable for children.

15 (1982-present) – This replaced the old AA certificate, raising the age limit to 15 in the process.

18 (1982-present) – This replaced the old X certificate, barring people under eighteen.

R18 (1982-present) – This classification was exclusively intended for videos that could only be sold in licensed sex shops.

Uc (1985-present) – This denotes video releases deemed particularly suitable for pre-school children.

12 (1989-present) – Introduced for cinema films in 1989 and video releases in 1994, this covers films that, while containing material deemed unsuitable for children, were nonetheless considered appropriate for 12-year-olds and upwards.

12A (2002-present) – Introduced for cinema films, this replaced the theatrical 12 certificate and permitted children under twelve to see the films provided they were accompanied by a responsible adult.

Michael Brooke, Source

There were some countries that banned the movie altogether including Ireland & Norway, and in some of the countries, the bans lasted decades.

Since the movie was in the spotlight so much due to the ban in these countries, they decided to use this to their advantage in their marketing campaigns.

In Sweden, the posters for the movie read, “So funny, it was banned in Norway!”.

The end of the movie was one of the most controversial scenes in which Brian was crucified, The Christian protesters said the scene was mocking Jesus’ suffering by making the scene into a “Jolly Boys Outing” (such as when Mr. Cheeky turns to Brian and says: “See, not so bad once you’re up!”), and then Brian’s fellow sufferers broke into song.

The protesters claim is reinforced even more when several of the movie’s characters talk about crucifixion being not as bad as it seems. Brian asks his cellmate what will happen to him, and the cellmate says: “Oh, you’ll probably get away with crucifixion”, and when the old man Matthias, who works for the PFJ dismisses crucifixion as “a doddle” and says that being stabbed would be worse.

The following report was issued by Terry Jones, the director: “Any religion that makes a form of torture into an icon that they worship seems to me a pretty sick sort of religion quite honestly”.

Leaders from religious communities later responded by saying that Jones did not understand the meaning of the crucifix symbol or the significance to Christians as a reminder of the suffering and death Christ went through for their sake.

Demonstrations Photo Credit

Demonstrations Photo Credit

The Monty Python group argued that crucifixion was a standard form of execution in the ancient times and not just for Jesus.

The comedy group wrote a letter to all religious groups that accused them of blasphemy and had never seen the movie:

Dear __________

Thank you for your letter regarding the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Whilst we understand your concern, we would like to correct some misconceptions you may have about the film which may be since you have not had the chance to see it before forming your views. The film is set in Biblical times, but it is not about Jesus. It is a comedy, but we would like to think that it does have serious attitudes and certain things to say about human nature. It does not ridicule Christ, nor does it show Christ in any way that could offend anyone, nor is belief in God or Christ a subject dealt with in the film.

We are aware that certain organizations have been circulating misinformation on these points and are sorry that you have been misled. We hope you will go see the film yourself and come to your own conclusions about its virtues and defects. In any case, we hope you find it funny.

Best wishes,

Monty Python

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