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Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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Few comedies have achieved the same level of satirical genius as Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones’ Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). The film, set in the era of Camelot (roughly the 1350’s), depicts King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his fellow knights on their foolhardy quest to seek the Holy Grail. While the film was produced on a ridiculously low budget, its clever structure and execution solidified its success. One aspect among many that makes the film so comically appealing is its application of perspective and unconventional storytelling. Not only was the audience introduced to the perspective of King Arthur and his knights, but also to those of several narrators. With these perspectives established, the film plays with events both outside and inside Arthur’s actual story, even having the narrator interact with characters and break conceptions of reality. Monty Python and the Holy Grail uses perspective as a means of creating several comedic platforms within the film, establishing multiple points of view (including the third-person perspective of the knights and the narrators and filmmakers, as well as several cases of omniscience) each of which adds to an overall satirical portrayal of the Knights of Camelot.

Through the third person perspective of the knights and other characters within the story, the film applies traditional set ups and dramatizations that reflect its overall satire. There are several instances where King Arthur and his knights lack knowledge of what challenge awaits them and, upon the reveal and outcome of this challenge, their quest is shown to be more comical than before. One of the most prominent of these situations is when the knights are led to the Cave of Caerbannog and must confront the entrance guard. As Tim the Enchanter (John Cleese) describes the terrible beast as having “nasty, big, pointy teeth,” Sir Robin (Eric Idle) soils himself and the Knights are gripped by fear. Only after the guard reveals himself do they realize that the beast they feared so greatly is only a small rabbit. This reveal is further built upon when the Knights, now full of confidence, attempt to battle the rabbit and are completely defeated, losing three companions in the process. This scene as a whole is possible only because of the limited perspective of the third person point of view. The viewer is forced to judge the situation on misleading information and in the same manner as the knights. Then, the audience is completely baffled when events don’t correlate with the information they were originally given. A byproduct of the deception of the third person point of view and the knight’s reactions, the scene exploits the brash nature of the knights and also calls into question their competence. Despite the creature’s speed and ferocity, it is still a small, fluffy, white rabbit and the knight’s defeat brings them great embarrassment.

This method of buildup and comedic release is also present at the Bridge of Death where the knights must answer three questions in order to pass. The disturbing atmosphere and the lack of information provided to the knights about the “questions three” lead the audience to perceive them as a formidable task. When Sir Lancelot (John Cleese) answers all three questions, however, it is revealed that the task is straightforward and simple. Again, this use of the third person perspective and the concealment of an event’s true level of danger create a strong comedic effect. It also promotes the ridiculousness of the knights quest as the brave Sir Lancelot has to do little to pass such a seemingly terrifying obstacle. Perhaps the greatest stab at the competency of the knights, however, is when Sir Galahad (Michael Palin) is launched off of the cliff for failing to state his favorite color. Having such a seemingly formidable knight fall at the hands of such a simple task provides the satire that the film is based on.

Alongside the suspense and ridicule that a lack of information can cause, the occasional omniscient perspective within the film allows for the same satirical portrayal of the knights. One such case occurs when Lancelot receives a message calling for rescue, presumes it to be from a princess locked in a castle, and proceeds to slaughter wedding guests and performers on his mission to save her. Prior to these events, the film provides an omniscient perspective for the viewer, allowing them to see that the individual who sent out the note was indeed a young prince and not the damsel that Lancelot envisions. With this omniscient perspective, the audience can only sit back and laugh as Lancelot strikes down body after body, proving his own brashness and ignorance.

Another case of omniscience attacks the superiority of King Arthur and his true knowledgeability. In the first scene, Arthur and his assistant, Patsy (Terry Gilliam), have a long drawn out discussion with a French guard over whether or not a swallow could transport a coconut. Flashing forward to the scene involving the Bridge of Death, Arthur is questioned by Sir Bedevere (Terry Jones) as to how he knows so much about swallows. To this the King Arthur replies, “You’ve got to know these things when you’re king.” From the perspective of Bedevere, Arthur is brilliant in his wit and knowledge of the world and also superior as a king. Because the audience has been exposed to the first scene with the French, however, they understand that Arthur’s knowledge of African and European swallows in fact came from the French and their nonsensical bickering. From this omniscient perspective, Arthur is not as wise as Bedevere believes. Instead, the King of Camelot is exposed as someone who got lucky and took credit for his good fortune.

One final example of omniscience that tarnishes the nobility of the knights involves the bravery of Sir Robin. Sir Robin is exposed to be a coward, running away from the Three Headed Knight (Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin) rather than facing him in combat. However, because none of the other knights are aware of his individual quest, none truly suspect him of such cowardice (although he did soil himself while battling the rabbit guard earlier). When Robin suggests that Sir Lancelot go first at the bridge of death, however, the audience receives a sense of satisfaction in knowing that he is simply too much of a coward to go first. On this occasion, the omniscient viewpoint tarnishes the courage of the seemingly courageous band of knights.

Perhaps the most intriguing and unique aspect of perspective within Monty Python and the Holy Grail is the expansion of the role of the narrators and filmmakers and their establishment as characters with their own third person point of view. By doing so, and by creating such an amusing representation, the film establishes the entire premise of satire within itself and also creates



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