In Praise of the Jailer from Monty Python’s Life of Brian

The Jailer - Terry Gilliam in Monty Python's the Life of Brian
The Jailer.

The Jailer from Monty Python’s masterpiece the Life of Brian has always amused us enormously.

Played by Terry Gilliam with disturbing effectiveness, this grotesque individual features a prominent scar across his skull where he’s essentially been cloven in two and then put back together.

As such, he functions as a colossal imbecile. Unquestionably mad, he lumbers about in the film being unpleasant to everyone, failing to understand fundamental questions related to his job, and generally being a bit perverted and weird.

Despite John Cleese, in the Monty Python DVD commentary, stating Gilliam is a bad actor, the Pythons were delighted with Gilliam’s portrayal, with the director relishing the opportunity to behave like a madman.

The Jailer

The Jailer’s defining moment is above – with acerbic “What?”s, a demented laugh, and some outrageous flirting. He’s not only a jailer, he also has a penchant for Sir Michael Palin!

In the DVD commentary, Palin acknowledges how these two broken individuals (the Jailer seems to be good mates with a stuttering Eric Idle) appear to find the centurion highly attractive.

In another scene, the mysterious Jailer is quizzed by John Cleese’s authoritative Centurion: “Have they [the individuals waiting to be crucified] gone?!” – the Jailer, after a moment of deliberation, responds with the epic line: “We got lumps of it round the back.”

However, once Cleese clears off it’s (in glorious Python style) suggested the Jailer and stuttering Idle are conning everyone by putting on an act.

So we’d like to think the jailer is truly as demented as it seems and only briefly had a moment of lucidity due to sunstroke, or some such.

As a result, we praise his depraved sensibilities her today and wonder why he hasn’t become a popular form of fancy dress at Halloween parties and all that. Oh well, we can live in hope, right?

Crazed Preacher

Gilliam’s acting contributions to the Python projects were always a bit limited. He was more of a busybody behind the scenes, adding his wild and wonderful animations to up the surrealism.

This was much the case in Life of Brian and the relentless, brilliantly ridiculous Holy Grail. But Gilliam did also have various other roles in the former, including the crazed preacher in the clip above (which was intended as a role for Keith Moon).

Only on screen briefly, Gilliam still decided to make the most of it. Covering himself in mud, and finding a staff with human hands upon it, he (again) plays his role with disturbing efficiency.

So this post is also in tribute to the multi-talented American, his sense of humour, and his brilliant creative output. He’s got lumps of it all round the back. Check out Brazil – his directorial masterpiece – if you don’t believe us.

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