When you're writing a column about how religion is portrayed in movies, Monty Python'sLife of Brian seems like an obvious choice. It is, after all, the satiric story of an ordinary fellow who happened to be born on the same night as Jesus, in the stable down the street, whose life runs parallel to his. But while the film has plenty of jokes that use Christianity as a starting point, what it actually has to say about religion is pretty simple.
Brian (played by Graham Chapman) is an average Jewish guy living in Roman-occupied Judea in A.D. 33. He has no religious aspirations. The closest thing he has to a "cause" is wanting the Romans to leave town, but that's political. (In fact, the film's most trenchant satire is political, not religious.) While Jesus is preaching the Sermon on the Mount, Brian and his mother are standing way in the back, unable to hear, and decide to attend a public stoning instead.
Brian becomes an unwilling messiah when, in an effort to hide from Roman soldiers trying to arrest him, he poses as a street preacher and spouts some nice-sounding platitudes. It's just an act, but the gathering crowd likes it and decides he's their savior. Everything he says or does from then on, no matter how insignificant, is perceived as doctrine. His shoe comes off while he's running; that means his followers should likewise go shoeless.
His attempts to divest himself of followers are futile. "I'm not the Messiah!" he exclaims, exasperated. A disciple replies: "I say you are, Lord -- and I should know, I've followed a few."