Twenty years on, Python’s five surviving members still can’t agree on how high their cinematic swan song should rank. ”I’ve changed my mind — I think it is the best thing Python’s ever done,” Terry Gilliam allows in the commentary on The Meaning of Life: 20th Anniversary Special Edition. In a retrospective doc, Eric Idle cops to unevenness but declares it ”kind of a punk film” and ”just as nasty as you could wish,” as well as ”a disguised musical.” Crotchety John Cleese — whose heart was least in it but who lent ”Life” several of his most inspired performances anyway — both damns and praises it as ”a typical sketch film.”
Pretty standard fare, all right, if you can think of any singin’, dancin’, and philosophizin’ sketch films that have a papacy-affirming homage to ”Oliver!” as an early highlight, a crypt-keeping nod to ”The Seventh Seal” as a late peak, and lots of literally gut-busting projectile bleeding and vomiting in between. The severely episodic nature that seemed so backward to Cleese does, in any case, make ”Life” the ideal subject for scene-by-scene DVD dissection.
A few extras seem designed strictly as perverse patience testers, like a ”Soundtrack for the Lonely” (mostly Michael Palin snorting and popping open beers) and a virtual-aquarium option with a very sporadic voice-over detailing ”what fish think” (”How do we have sex? I forgot”). But you may need these relaxed indulgences to come down from a film that makes exhaustive and exhilarating mirth out of every grimness known to man. However short on existential meaning its catalog of grotesqueries may be, you will be reminded that it’s best to always bring mops, aprons, and waders while shuffling off this messy mortal coil.