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It takes a certain amount of personal inanity to let Monty Python into your heart. But if you're so absurdly inclined, there's no better coconut-clapping entryway into the quintessential British comedy troupe's oeuvre than Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which celebrates its 45th anniversary this month and continues to provide perfect quotes for every unforeseeable situation our absurd lives can muster.
Within this high mark of high fantasy satire, writer/actors Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin take the Arthurian legend and skewer it with sublime and subversive parody that takes WTF-ness to its most hilarious heights.
The entire film, directed by "40 Specially Trained Ecuadorian Mountain Llamas, 6 Venezuelan Red Llamas, 142 Mexican Whooping Llamas, 14 North Chilean Guanacos (Closely Related to the Llama), Reg Llama of Brixton, 76000 Battery Llamas From 'Llama-Fresh' Farms Ltd. Near Paraguay, and Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones" is one giant WTF event — from the farting-in-your-general-direction French soldiers; to the sagacious wizard, Tim the Enchanter, who just goes by "Tim"; to the Black Knight, who fights his way to a dramatic draw despite his lack of limbs; to the benefits of knowing the difference between the airspeed velocity of an unladen African swallow versus a European one.
But for all of that WTF-ness, perhaps the most WTF moment of the entire laugh riot can be summed up in one word: "Ni!"
Ni, pronounced "knee" (not "noo"), is, of course, the word that the Knights Who Say "Ni"... say. And they say it often. And annoyingly. And piercingly. So much so that such intense Ni-ing gets King Arthur's (Chapman) merry band to agree to anything the Knights demand.
But the only thing more WTF than all the Ni-Ni-Ni-Ni-Ni-ing are the demands the "just and fair" Knights Who Say "Ni" make upon the sovereign.
As if heading off to cross the Bridge of Death weren't enough to worry about, Arthur and his simple travelers, seeking the enchanted one who lives beyond the woods, encounter within those murky woods these oddly antlered Knights. They are the "keepers of the sacred words 'Ni', 'Peng', and 'Neee-Wom,'" as led by a 12-foot-tall mustachioed uber Ni-er, played with utilitarian grace by Michael Palin — who takes on a whopping 12 parts in the film, including Sir Galahad the chaste, the soldier at the gates who first brings up the scientific qualities of swallows (so many swallows!), and the right head of the Three-Headed Knight who sends the brave Sir Robin running.
Indeed, Arthur confides to Sir Bedevere the Wise (Jones), "those who hear them seldom live to tell the tale!"
If Arthur's fearless comrades didn't believe this warning at first glance, they certainly did at first "ni," which cuts them down, ni by painful ni, ultimately debilitating Arthur and his men to the point of appeasement. And how does one appease such fearsome keepers of the woods? With a shrubbery, specifically "one that looks nice, and not too expensive."
Fortunately, later on in the film, after Sir Lancelot (Cleese) bravely hacks up a wedding party, Arthur and Sir Bedevere run into Roger the Shrubber (Idle), who conveniently arranges and designs shrubberies.
Roger's work is deemed a good shrubbery indeed, but the Knights Who Say "Ni" have switched things up to become the Knights Who Say "Ekke Ekke Ekke Ekke Ptang Zoo Boing," and now require the Knights of Camelot to cut down the largest tree in the forest with... a herring!
Which most certainly could have become a fishy situation, had the Round Table knights not discovered the word "it" pierces the very brains of the Knights who formerly said "Ni." They unwittingly unfurl a devastating flurry of "it"s, and then hop on their coconut-powered steeds and ride off.
If you're not absurdly inclined, it may all seem like a bit much, but perhaps so too might the "real" world seem. So don't run away, but toward this classic, and say "Ni" many, many times while you're at it.
It's streaming now on Netflix, so go! Flee! Run away!