I just watched Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. As with all of Monty Python’s humour, it is a hilarious, if you are into that brand of comedy, and this film is particularly inspired. It is a bawdy, irreverent, occasionally chaotic (and occasionallypsychotic) series of sketches attempting to tease out the meaning of life, or the lack thereof.

The hilarious end of the movie highlights, I think, an important feature of the worldview of the non-Christian. I would like to reproduce for you a bit of the narrative along with my commentary.

I agree with Rand that any piece of writing betrays certain philosophies & assumptions (the “worldview,” if you like) of the author, yet it is of course unfair to automatically interpret the contents of a comedy sketch as the authentic viewpoints of the writers/actors. Let my interpretation and comments apply, if not to the writer/actors of Monty Python, then, to the implict worldview of “the implied author.

The movie about life concludes, naturally enough, with a sketch about death. Death himself visits a group of English suburbanite yuppies at a dinner party with a knock on the door.

GEOFFREY:
Yes?
[pause]
Is it about the hedge?
[pause]
Look. I am awfully sorry, but–
GRIM REAPER:
I am the Grim Reaper.
GEOFFREY:
Who?
GRIM REAPER:
The Grim Reaper.
GEOFFREY:
Yes, I see.
GRIM REAPER:
I am death.
GEOFFREY:
Yes, well, the thing is, we’ve got some people from America for dinner tonight, and–
ANGELA:
Who is it, darling?
GEOFFREY:
It’s a ‘Mr. Death’ or something. He’s come about the reaping? I don’t think we need any at the moment.
ANGELA:
Hello. Well, don’t leave him hanging around outside, darling. Ask him in.
GEOFFREY:
Darling, I don’t think it’s quite the moment.
ANGELA:
Do come in. Come along in. Come and have a drink. Do. Come on.

After chatting for awhile with “Mr. Death”, he interrupts them to announce his reason for visiting…

GRIM REAPER:
Silence! I have come for you.
ANGELA:
You mean… to–

Take you away. That is my purpose. I am death.



GEOFFREY:
Well, that’s cast rather a gloom over the evening, hasn’t it?
HOWARD:
I don’t see it that way, Geoff. [sniff] Let me tell you what I think we’re dealing with here: a potentially positive learning experience to get an–
GRIM REAPER:
Shut up! Shut up, you American.

You always talk, you Americans. You talk and you talk and say ‘let me tell you something’ and ‘I just wanna say this’. Well, you’re dead now, so shut up!”

After an equally scathing generalization leveled against the British, the narrative moves to the chapter called “The Afterlife.” In this sequence, many of the prominent (and not so prominent) figures from earlier in the movie who have died tragic (or comedic) deaths, again appear in the celestial rows and rows of round tables at the Great Eternal Dinner Party in Heaven.

GRIM REAPER:
Behold… Paradise.
[elevator music]
MR. HENDY:
I love it here, darling.
MRS. HENDY:
Me too, Marvin.
RECEPTIONIST:
Hello. Welcome to Heaven. Excuse me, could you just sign here, please, sir?
JEREMY:
Yes.
RECEPTIONIST:
Thank you! There’s a table for you through there in the restaurant.
JEREMY:
Thank you.
RECEPTIONIST:
For the ladies,…
FIONA:
Mhm. ‘After-life Mints’. [hiccup]
DEBBIE:
Thank you.
RECEPTIONIST:
Happy Christmas!
DEBBIE:
Oh, is it Christmas today?
RECEPTIONIST:
Of course, madam. It’s Christmas every day in Heaven.

They then take their seats and begin enjoying pleasant conversation with their heavenly neighbors. However, hors’doeuvres, and light chatter are soon interrupted by the commencement of the main show.

A group of scantily-clad, Las Vegas-style peacock dancers arrive, wearing wings and red Christmas-y lingerie, singing and dancing in unison. They eventually lend the audience’s attention to the main performer of the evening, an unnaturally tan-faced, unnaturally white-toothed Tony Bennet-style lounge singer…

TONY BENNETT:
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It’s truly a real honourable experience to be here this evening, a very wonderful and warm and emotional moment for all of us, and I’d like to sing a song for all… of you.
[applause]
[singing]
It’s Christmas in Heaven.
All the children sing.
It’s Christmas in Heaven.
Hark. Hark. Those church bells ring.
It’s Christmas in Heaven.
The snow falls from the sky,
But it’s nice and warm, and everyone
Looks smart and wears a tie.
It’s Christmas in Heaven.
There’s great films on TV:
‘The Sound of Music’ twice an hour
And ‘Jaws’ One, Two, and Three.
JOSEPH AND MARY: [singing]
There’s gifts for all the family.
There’s toiletries and trains.
THREE WISE MEN: [singing]
There’s Sony Walkman Headphone sets
And the latest video games.

EVERYONE: [singing]
It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas in Heaven!
Hip hip hip hip hip hooray!
Every single day
Is Christmas day!
It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas in Heaven!
Hip hip hip hip hip hooray!
Every single day
Is Chri–“

My only comment is to point out that heaven, here, is pictured as an everlasting Christmas. I can just imagine the writing meeting: OK guys, we need to picture heaven. How shall we approach this? “Well, heaven has to be happy. It has to be uber-happy!” What is the happiest day of the year for all the little British boys and girls? “Why, Christmas of course!” So what is eternal bliss? “Christmas day, every day! Oo, and there are topless women, and a lovely dinner show for everyone.”

Now, this vision of heaven is simulteneously hilarious and tragic. It’s funny because, in one way it rings true… If every day were Christmas, O what childlike delight! what rapture! Yet notice the mythmakers make the end of the movie move swiftly, with good reason: If we, as viewers, had enough time to become bored with the joke, become Tony Bennet, with the angelic dancers, with the dinner party, and to become filled with a longing to leave this ampitheater and return home, then we would remember that there is no home to return to… for the characters in the movie, this is our new home… We would realize that this vision of heaven is very much more like a vision of hell. If bliss, upon reflection, becomes intolerable simplicity, then it is no bliss at all.

For the non-Christian, heaven is something worth thinking about, worth making a few jokes about, worth making images of… but it is ultimately just another monolithic reminder of the mysterious country, from which no traveller has returned, and the creeping fear of what might be when we get there.

Is it fire and brimstone, and the gnashing of teeth? Is it darkness, nothingness, and a puff of existential smoke? Or, (do we dare to ask ourselves): Might it be a happy place, every day a Christmas day, an abundance of food and sex and music for all? And, (if we do dare,) do we dare go further and ask ourselves: Would this be enough?

For Monty Python, the Christmas song is interrupted, and the movie closes with the following monologue:

“Well, that’s the end of the film. Now, here’s the meaning of life. Thank you, Brigitte. M-hmm. Well, it’s nothing very special.

Uh, 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, and, finally, here are some completely gratuitous pictures of [male genitalia] to annoy the censors and to hopefully spark some sort of controversy, which, it seems, is the only way, these days, to get the jaded, video-sated public off their… arses and back in the sodding cinema. Family entertainment bollocks. What they want is filth: people doing things to each other with chainsaws during tupperware parties, babysitters being stabbed with knitting needles by gay presidential candidates, vigilante groups strangling chickens, armed bands of theatre critics exterminating mutant goats– Where’s the fun in pictures? Oh, well, there we are. Here’s the theme music. Goodnight.”
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Posted by Keith E. Buhler

7 Comments

  1. Soarin'_Blonde April 20, 2006 at 8:20 am

    The problem with you Christians is simple: It is fear. You fear what you do not know, whereas men of my kind embrace it. You flee from darkness, chaos, turmoil — we thrive in it.

    “The mysterious country”, “the undiscovered country,” Blah blah blah… All of these Hamlet quotations are pathetic admissions of the inability to face — no, to embrace! the inevitable.

    It is poetically characteristic of your religion to derive extreme (if idle) pleasure from the endless weaving of little stories about the angels in heaven and the wispy clouds upon which we will all sit and the abounding love and gold and tearlessness that we all so dreadfully desire.

    What is sorely lacking… (O, I do not mean to criticize) what is poetically and fittingly lacking… is a manful courage, an admission of total ignorance coupled with a fire-eyed excitement at the prospect of dying… “what dreams may come?” indeed! What dreams may come? Let them come!

    Reply

  2. Soarin Blonde –

    Well… sounds like you could write a great poem about it. Hubris is always great fodder for passionate poems. It’s also a terrible way to live life. I don’t know if your screen name there is an intentional reference, but it, combined with your passionate, uncareful boldness brings to mind well known characters from Greek mythology. Remember, it was Daedelus who built the wings out of wax and feather, Daedalus who discovered the mystery of flight, and Daedalus who was able to teach it. Icarus was the impotent, ridiculous son who leached onto his father’s creations and destroyed himself with his fire-eyed pride. Who wants to be Icarus?

    Christianity is a large religion. There are many sorts of believers in the faith. No doubt a contingent of our faith is stuck in doughy-eyed wonder about whispy clouds and golden roads, but I challenge you to try and explain the lives (and deaths) of hundreds of thousands of Christian martyrs throughout two-thousand years of Christianity under such a narrow, ignorant view. I find it hard to believe that it was fear that gripped them in their last moments of life.

    Reply

  3. makelovehappen April 21, 2006 at 2:56 am

    Mr. Blonde, have you ever sensed that in your final moments you will look back at your life and (despite your achievements and successes) consider that your time may have meant nothing to your neighbor, to God, or to your self?

    Perhaps you have done nothing you regret and you can gaze upon the unvarnished eternity before you straightforwardly. Perhaps this prospect of looking backward at your life arouses your courage. Perhaps the details of your life as a complete project do not betray anguish or unfulfilled longing? Perhaps you have stared it in the eyes (as seriously as death stares at each person) and find no cause to stir or to turn desperately for distraction.

    Perhaps as one has set out to build a monument to a president or a country, you have made yourself a monument to the law of God and the holy angels in heaven. A monument firmly footed in righteousness and brimming with unshakeable confidence.

    Well, my prodigious friend, if death has searched you out and found no defect which is a defect in your own eyes (for the judgment of death differs in no way from one’s own judgment of one’s own life) then neither do I find fault in your courage … except perhaps that your rejoicing is too small.

    If only I could gaze upon death with such courage! This is not an option to me. Where you see cause for celebration in your life I see dred in my own. It’s not so much that I am afraid of how I will find death, but rather how death with find me.

    As I do not fault you in your victory, I hope you do not fault me in my honesty. I think you will find that if you can overcome the desire to look down upon me and my brothers your gaze upon death with be even more victorious. The courage you proclaim will become transfigured into an infinite courage. For you see that the fulfillment of the rules we place on ourselves is to love. Surely there is no greater courage!

    Is this the courage you view death with, Mr. Blonde? Have I fashioned words that describe you or did I mistake something in your description of yourself? Have I portrayed the serious truth about you or have I taken you a bit too seriously?

    Reply

  4. You are a man of science, are you not, Mr. Soarin’ Blonde?

    Reply

  5. You have struck one right note by calling me a poet… Indeed, I am a Poem.

    The poetic soul, more delicate than most, more sensitive, more sensible and alive, is the most courageous, and courage is Oneselfness. Achilles the Furious was courageous — Why? Because he did not disdain his fury. Woe to him who sees that his anger will extinguish his immortal life, and who therefore turns away from his anger in fear. Is his anger not his anger? Woe to him who has sacrificed the one thing in the world worth everything, that is, his own, individual, (furious) soul.

    What cause do we have to fear the blazing heat of the sun if it is in our nature to fly? What cause do we have to fear the bold heights to which only so few of us climb if we are destined, there, to die, and there, dying, to be, for the first time, ourselves? Who wants to be Icarus? I tell you: Icarus does. Tell me: Who wants to be dthompson?

    I once was lost, but now I am found. I am found by the one who did not seek me, but sought himself, and therefore drew me to myself, in him, before teaching me to reject him in favor of myself.

    Unfortunately I don’t know a great deal of dead men, however, if I did, I would ask those of them who died for his name’s sake whether their death was for themselves or for another, and if, hearing, “For Another!” shouted back at me with religious fervor, I would ask them, “Who are you? What is worth giving up for your own sake?”

    I am a Poem of Meaning, and as much, I am a meaningful poet. I am a man of freedom, and inasmuch as science lends itself to the evolution of human freedom, I may be considered a man of science, but more to the point, I am a poet.

    I sing a song of myself, a song of freedom, a song of choice. What I choose I choose for its own sake, or for my sake, I do not know. But I do know one thing, that I do not regret (O we are yet so weak in the flesh).

    What is this regret? What is this woeful feeling of self-sympathy at the discovery of self? I have never been able to understand when it is that I am supposed to feel the prick of conscience.

    I do not approach the coming darkness with a nice clean set of freshly sharpened pencils, a thorough checklist and a durable yet surprisingly fashionable duffel bag, (but not too heavy though), I am no anal Egyptian; no, I am an oral American, and though decomposition consumes all men, I do not expect to fail to do my share of consuming.

    I approach the unknown like a man facing darkness, befriending darkness, indeed loving it! — for it is not in broad daylight that the warriors are distinguished, but in shadows and corners where women and children and the uncapitalized disdain to go. I do not gaze at eternity, for I see no eternity gazing back at me, nor do I see evaporation, judgment, or any other fairy-tale ending… I see nothing, like all men, and I admit it, unlike most. While I gaze at nothingness I affirm it. I gaze at nothingness and affirm myself.

    Reply

  6. Mr. Blonde,

    You are indeed a poetic person. While reading your last comment I wondered to myself if Achilles’ shade has not somehow found a way to write to us from that unhappy world below. Allow me to ask a few questions in response to your sorrowful riddles.

    You seem to present the man who does not follow his anger as a person who wears a mask. I am eager to support your earnest work to loosen the masks, but I cannot help but wonder if perhaps Achilles was himself a mask-wearer in his anger. When he styled himself in sorrow at the loss of his woman, was he playing a role? Just how far down did his anger go? How serious was it? Perhaps more serious than his interest in Briseis?

    And when you die for this cause you describe (for things as ends in themselves or for you) and I call out to you in that other place: “Did you die for yourself or for someone else?” And you answer back, “For my fury …”, would you blame me if I took that answer essentially as, “For Another!”? And then will you answer back, “Who are you? What is worth giving up for your own sake?” ?

    And what happens when you issue demands to heaven and God comes down and takes away all the externalities that you rage against, what then? Will you still have a furious soul when everything you have demanded has been given to you? And when God’s love discloses itself to you – even offering to accept you as you are – will you hold tightly to the weapons you carry inside? If so, how sorrowful! How poetic! But is this response … you?

    Is there enough room inside your rage to fit yourself completely? And when you have placed yourself entirely in its arms, will you not look to see some fine and noble thing that your anger will not accept? Do you deny that there is a part of you that longs to lay down these demands that you seem to hold against heaven?

    You seem to have a noble interest in becoming yourself as an individual. I too see the value of gazing into the nothingness (as you say) and becoming oneself. My question is essentially how committed to all this are you? Until your next post I look forward to your answers and to the task of making love happen.

    Reply

  7. OK, you say you are a man of freedom, and science if science lends itself to freedom.

    Well, see if this is scientific (and free) enough for you.

    There has been a significant number (read: thousands) of studies performed on people who have had Near-Death Experiences (NDEs). That is, people who have been to the undiscovered country, and come back.

    “Since the 1980s, many other researchers have become involved in the serious study of near death experiences. Their findings are for the most part very similar, with each researcher adding to the body of knowledge. and understanding. Among these researchers are Dr Melvin Morse, Dr P.M.H. Atwater, Dr Peter Fenwick, Dr Bruce Greyson and many others.”

    Surveys and pulls
    “In 1982 the Gallup polling organisation discovered that eight million adult Americans have had near death experiences. This is about one person in twenty, which a very large number that cannot be ignored or brushed off lightly.

    More recently, in 1997 the U.S. News & World Report survey found that over 15 Million Adult Americans have claimed to have had an NDE.”

    The overwhelming consistency of the pattern of these experiences is plenty proof that the community of human beings alive today have some insight into “what dreams may come.”

    I will leave you, Mr. Blonde, to do your own research on it.

    http://mikepettigrew.com/afterlife/html/history_of_ndes.html

    http://mikepettigrew.com/afterlife/html/u_k__study.html

    Reply

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