(Z To A is an ongoing series: cumulative reviews of my DVD collection in reverse alphabetical order.)
Plot Synopsis: King Arthur and his knights embark on a low-budget search for the Grail, encountering many very silly obstacles.
– From IMDB Page
What more can be said about Monty Python and The Holy Grail? Anyone who has seen it has plenty to say and most of it has been said already. Chances are if you’re reading this you know entire chunks of it by heart. Hell, you might be quoting them in your head right now.
I suppose that’s a testament to how universal it is. If there ever was a film that creates an instant rapport with someone, this is it. You could find yourself reciting the movie backwards and forwards with a complete stranger and, quite suddenly, you have a friend. Or at least someone you can’t completely hate.
Like many people I know, Grail was a part of my childhood. Apparently the first time I experienced it was in my mother’s womb (it was her first time seeing it as well), and the joke was that this was why I “didn’t turn out quite right.” Since then I’ve watched it countless times, and here’s the payoff: Grail has jokes that would make any six-year-old laugh. Others… not so much. They go over your head. Then the rest of them land as you get older, only intensifying with age.
Why? Well, in my case it’s because they ring truer. I credit Grail with not only shaping my sense of humor but worldview. Along with Lewis Carroll’s Alice books (as well as the Disney version) and Voltaire’s Candide (which I didn’t read until much, much later- and it’s pretty much the South Park of its time), this film is why I identify with Absurdism.
Now that may be hard to get that from scenes like this:
But if you think about it… not so much. Grail is about a group of characters trying to navigate a world that is constantly treacherous and makes little to no sense, much like the travails of little Alice or the naïve Candide. Their cause is noble, and they have been ordered to carry out their quest by the rather surly and impatient God Himself.
But hey, if God tells you to do something, you should probably do it or he’ll smite the hell out of you. Thing is, there is no payoff for King Arthur and his men. Promises are unfulfilled, circumstances are distracting and the quest ultimately comes to nothing. What many viewers don’t discuss is the ending of this film, where our characters are arrested for a murder that they didn’t commit. In fact, we know they didn’t do it because they don’t ride horses.
That’s about as absurd as it gets.
I’d say my favorite part is the “Tale of Sir Lancelot” sequence and I’ll tell you why: it’s the most preposterous vignette of the film. In fact, it’s a comedic shitstorm of epic proportions. We have a situation where time and distance have no meaning or effect, for one thing.
There is also no fourth wall (the King yells at the powers that be whenever the film becomes a musical) and everyone dies but no one dies. It’s absolutely… bananas. Watching John Cleese run through a wedding and murdering everyone in sight is still one of the strangest and funniest things I’ve ever seen, and watching him stutter an apology to them afterwards is even funnier. His and anyone else’s actions, as heinous and extreme as they are, actually have no effect. That violates everything we think we know about human nature.
But then again, why am I even telling you this? You already know this film already, right? You know it like the back of your hand.
So I digress. This film is hilarious. It’s one of my favorites and will continue to enlighten and entertain me as I get older. It seems the longer I’m around the more I realize that life simply doesn’t make sense. Grail doesn’t only understand that, it satirizes the hell out of it. I think I need that. It makes reality hurt a little less.
Of course, the silliness helps quite a bit:
And in the end, it’s the silliness that remains. That’s what just about everyone remembers about this film, down to the finest detail. Grail is so well-loved it can’t be helped. It even seeps into the tender, impressionable minds of little children. Did you know that my cousin got busted for walking through his nursery school while banging pots and shouting, “Bring out your dead”?
Yeah. True story.