Monty Python and the Holy Grail, by Albert W. Vogt III

I watched a few different movies over the weekend, none of them in the theater. Netflix seems determined to destroy the traditional movie theater format. I predict (or hope, take your pick) that this does not prove true. When (and if) all this COVID-19 business is over, I cannot imagine people will want to remain cooped up in their homes, even to watch a movie. But, for now, Netflix and other streaming services seem to have released a number of quality movies to be viewed whenever it strikes their subscribers’ fancy . . . or they have reached their Zoom tolerance limit. Of the three I saw, the only one I chose and paid any real attention to was Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). It had been a while since I had seen this all the way through, but its jokes were still familiar.

One thing I had forgotten about in Monty Python and the Holy Grail was the opening credits. Since this is a film done by famed British comedy group Monty Python, it was as random and hilarious as one might expect. They were accompanied by ominous music . . . and fake Swedish captions about møøse and how one had once bit the writer of said credits’ sister. Before you know it, møøse-related lines in the credits began appearing. At various points the credits break down, leading to several apologies being issued and the sackings of those responsible, only to by replaced by a South American themed/llama related opening credit sequence. What does any of that have to do with King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his God-given quest to find the chalice Jesus used at the Last Supper? Nothing at all. One thing to remember about Monty Python is that they earned their fame with a comedy variety show called Monty Python’s Flying Circus. As with all such productions, instead of plot they are a series of short sketches that sometimes are related, and sometimes it was, as the repeated phrase went, “time for something completely different.” With Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there is a loose thread that holds everything together as King Arthur travels around England in 935 looking for other knights to join him on his quest. At least we are told it is 935. In actuality, these events are seemingly taking place in modern times when a “historian” (John Young) is murdered by a mounted warrior and the police step in to investigate. Ironically, this is the only time you see a horse in the film. The rest of the time riding is simulated by the knights’ servants traveling behind them and clapping two cocoanut shells together to mimic the sound of hooves. Comedic genius. Oh, and they also address the unlikeliness of cocoanuts being in their hands, it being a tropical fruit and England being a temperate zone. When their first attempt to find the Holy Grail is thwarted by a group of insulting Frenchmen from behind the safety of their castle walls, King Arthur makes the decision to send each of his knights off separately to find their prize. These lead to a few more sketches that are all extremely funny in their own way. Watch the movie. Finally, they come back together to make one last effort to achieve their goal. As a group they get past a murderous rabbit, survive the terrors of the Black Beast of Aaaaaargghh when the animator has a sudden heart attack, and navigate the Bridge of Death (which can be crossed by knowing either your favorite color or the airspeed of an unladened swallow). When they make it to the final castle where they believe the Hold Grail rests, they are once again confronted by the French. Having had enough, King Arthur calls upon an army that appears apparently out of thin air. However, just when they are about to storm the castle and defeat the French, the police arrive and arrest the lot. The film then stops. Go ahead, keep watching. . . .

For those of you who have seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you will know what I mean with that last sentence. If you are also familiar with Monty Python broadly, you will know that they are pretty irreverent when it comes to matters of Faith. Their show often poked fun at the Catholic Church, taking shots at our culture and history. The film in question is no different. For starters, their “God” is an animated Karl Marx, which is, of course, ridiculous. Chanting monks are depicted wandering about and rhythmically bashing their heads with bits of wood adorned with Crosses. There are also references to (fictional) holy relics and the supposed cultish following around them. There are a few ways you can view this treatment. I would not blame any practicing Catholic who saw this and decided to never see anything else Monty Python-related (I would also not recommend Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) if this is the case). However, there is something to be said about the ability to laugh at yourself. The danger, to be sure, is that too much irreverence can lead to apostasy. This is a constant battle fought by the Church, and I have seen it first hand working in youth ministry. The Church’s traditions and practices are breathtakingly beautiful when you really consider them for what they are supposed to do. But for a teenager (or outsiders like Monty Python), they can seem a little staid. The trick is in finding that voice of God that brings the Faith to life rather than it being bunch of boring ancient rituals. When you have that, you can chuckle a little when a priest has to light the altar candles in the middle of a Mass, or when Monty Python makes a joke at our expense.

There is a little bit of foul language and suggested sexuality in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but nothing too outrageous. The first time I saw it I was probably about eleven years old. You do not get the humor as much then as you do as an adult. Also, the edited-for-television version I saw at that tender age was not too different from the actual one. Still, I would not show it to a child. There are some genuinely funny aspects to it. But it rides that line enough to make it safer for an adult audience, and preferably one that can take a joke.


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