The Meaning Behind “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” by Monty Python and the Rock Legend Who Got ‘Life of Brian’ Made

It will be fun to see what director Sam Mendes can do with the four movies about The Beatles, one for each member, that he is putting together for release in 2027. While we’re guessing that they’ll focus on the Beatle years, we’d love to see the moviemaking side of George Harrison depicted. After all, if it weren’t for George, there would be no Monty Python’s Life of Brian. And if there were no Life of Brian, we wouldn’t have the enduring tongue-in-cheek anthem “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

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How did all this happen? Let’s take a look at how Harrison started the dominoes falling that led to a song both profoundly zany and zanily profound all at once.

George and the Pythons

Harrison would often tell friends something to the effect that Monty Python, the irreverent British comedy group, had captured some of the spirit of The Beatles once the Fab Four broke up. Python conquered British television and then made the move to the cinema with two uproarious films.

For their third film, they concocted a story about a normal guy living in the time of Jesus Christ who accidentally becomes a spiritual leader. The film took aim at organized religion with typical Pythonian glee. EMI Films was scheduled to come up with the money for the film to be made. However, just before filming was set to begin, EMI backed out, perhaps because they sensed the subject matter might be on the controversial side.

As a result, Python member Eric Idle and executive producer John Goldstone hopped a flight to the U.S. to try to come up with funding. United Artists agreed to pay for half, but the rest was still up in the air. Goldstone explained to the Los Angeles Times in a 2019 interview what happened next:

“Eric said George had always been a huge Python fan, and Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam had become friendly with him,” Goldstone said. “So Eric said, ‘Why don’t we see whether George could help?’ We went to his house in the Hollywood Hills, and I can’t remember if we had sent him the script or if he had read it, but he said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’ And that was it.”

You might think that it was no big deal for Harrison to come up with the money. But it was short notice, and he had to take out a mortgage on his fabled Friar’s Park estate to pony up the necessary $2 million. In any case, he got it done, which meant that the Pythons once again had a film. Now they just needed a big finish.

Idle Hands

Monty Python often handed over musical duties to their buddy Neil Innes, who had been a member of the comic rockers Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. But Idle also proved himself an adept songwriter over the years. The final scene of Life of Brian ends with Brian, played by Graham Chapman, facing crucifixion. To keep that from getting too maudlin, the group came up with the idea to have the prisoners on crosses break into song.

Idle thought of the old British axiom about keeping a stiff upper lip in a time of crisis, and used that to create a song that takes that notion to the extreme. He cheerfully sings the song using his “Cheeky Guy” persona from the film to give it a spark.

The Meaning of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”

“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” insists upon a glass half-full attitude, even as the water is spilling out from a hole in the cup. Idle finds some fun rhymes to get his point across: When you’re chewing on life’s gristle / Don’t grumble, give a whistle / And this’ll make help things turn out for the best.

He admits that you’re facing a stacked deck right from the time you’re born: For life is quite absurd / And death’s the final word. Elsewhere, he admits, Life’s the laugh, and death’s the joke, it’s true. But he suggests that you can still find a reason to smile, as long as you don’t kid yourself about the reality of how it all ends: Keep ’em laughin’ as you go / Just remember that the last laugh is on you.

At one point, Idle changes the refrain to Always look on the bright side of death. That might not seem possible, but in the face of that bouncy melody and the joyous voices belting it out, you’ll likely find yourself adhering to that philosophy. The members of Monty Python likely believed in the message behind “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” After all, their famous investor George Harrison had saved Life of Brian from its own demise, thereby giving the world the opportunity to hear this happy, hilarious tune.

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Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images/Getty Images

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