Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story


1.       The major, overriding theme of the film is the unpredictability of life and how those who try to dictate its outcome will fail.  Both Steve Coogan and Tristram Shandy’s father quickly learn that no matter how hard they try to control their lives, and the lives of those around them, it proves to be an impossible thing to do.  And in a way both men come off as a bit narcissistic in their controlling and overbearing ways. Both men are obsessed with their own lives and careers, and as a result they continually seek ways to make the dominoes in their lives fall in a way that they see fit.

2.       Some important themes of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, a Gentleman by Laurence Sterne are the complexity of life as well as the inability to understand time and place.  In the novel Tristram is constantly explaining his life and the humorous mishaps and adventures he goes through, but in the novel his recollections all seem discombobulated and out of sorts; he does not describe his own birth until the 3rd volume of the book.  All of this disorganization reflects the overall chaotic and unpredictability of life itself, which in turn makes the book a difficult one to turn into a film.  As Coogan and the movie crew figured out, there are just too many important scenes in the book, such as the Widow Wadman and the various battle scenes, which makes it hard to decide what to put in the film and what to leave out of the film.


·         Offered one blogger’s take on the film; he notes how the film feels “incomplete” and “clumsy” by the end, which was most likely the intent of the director.

·         Review talks about the ways the film within the film went outside of its context, i.e. Tristram mentioning Groucho Marx and Pavlov’s dog. Also talks about the different personal spats between Coogan and Brydon, etc.

·         Review from Roger Ebert that really does a nice job of explaining and reviewing the film on an extremely intricate and fundamental level.

Roger Ebert’s review was especially helpful in terms of understanding the movie.  He begins by making a note of how the actual novel begins just before the birth of Tristram and ends right after Tristram is born.  This highlights the theme of how life is simply to far-reaching and full of detail for anyone to attempt to condense it or control it.  Ebert also does a nice job of relating this film to others in the genre, such as “Spinal Tap” and “Looking for Richard” which make it easier for people who seen these other films to understand this one.

4.  What does the film say about motherhood, in terms of the Tristram story, and the filming-of-Tristram story? How about fatherhood?

In the cases of the Tristram story and the filming-of-Tristram story, fatherhood is leaps and bounds ahead of motherhood in terms of perceived importance.  In the case of Tristram, we see how his father is annoyed at his wife because she mistakenly thought she was pregnant; he tells her that he it will cost him money.  Later in the story of Tristram, we see how as his mother is going through an excruciatingly painful child birth, the father is peacefully sleeping or casually talking with his friends.  He even gets annoyed that a mid wife is brought in to help with the birth, because he believes only a doctor is necessary.  Tristram’s father is portrayed as someone who is emotionally detached from his wife throughout the majority of his son’s birth.  Now whether this is the way things were done in that era, I do not know, but nonetheless he is portrayed like that.

In the filming-of-Tristram, Coogan is portrayed in a similar way; as somewhat of an absentee father and spouse.  Obviously Coogan was frantically working on his film, however he makes minimal time for his girlfriend, Jenny, and their child.  In the beginning of the film Coogan goes to see Jenny and his child for small spurts of time between filming, which makes it seem as if Coogan is not making sufficient family time.  Then towards the end of the film when the cast is filming the battle scene, Coogan has the perfect opportunity to relax with Jenny but he is preoccupied with Brydon’s increased role in the film.  Jenny even asks him to come to bed, telling Coogan that she had traveled 200 miles on a train with an infant just to have sex with him.  However, even the allure of sex is not enough to deter Coogan from his maniacal obsession with his role in the movie.  In the filming-of-Tristram, Coogan’s obsession with his own career and stardom drive him away from his relationship with his son and his girlfriend.