There is an inordinate amount of people who love The Princess Bride (1987). Most people I know enjoy it. It has been referenced in a number of other shows and movies. My favorite sitcom of all time, Parks and Recreation, has an episode where Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) dress for Halloween as The Princess Bride’s couple, respectively Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Westley (Carey Elwes). I have never understood the fascination. There is nothing wrong with the movie, in general. It has action, adventure, and romance, all fine ingredients for making a solid piece of cinema. It is also a fantasy flick, with knights and magic and a whole lot of other material that, outside of this one film in particular, most people find, well, nerdy. Its popularity has also withstood the test of time, and received a big help when Disney bought Twentieth Century Fox, the company that made it. Now, anyone with a Disney + subscription can watch it an “inconceivable” number of times. That will not be me. Despite my lukewarm feelings for it, I was in the need of something with more value after watching the Pit of Despair that is Spun. Well spotted you fans of The Princess Bride.
The Princess Bride is not told, at first, as a fantasy tale. Instead, a grandson (Fred Savage) is in bed, sick at home, but playing video games. His grandfather (Peter Falk) arrives to watch him for a while and to see him off to sleep. To accomplish this task, grandfather brings along with him the title book, a story that his grandfather had read to his father, and his father to him. His grandson does not react well, and worries that it is going to be a “kissing book.” Grandfather plunges ahead, and immediately we are introduced to Buttercup and Westley. She is a farm girl, and he works on their family’s farm. Soon, they fall madly in love, but Westley leaves shortly thereafter to make something of himself so that they can one day marry. Not long after departing, she receives word that his ship had been attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts, resulting in Westley’s death. A few years go by without any further word of her true love, and in the meantime she agrees to wed Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), heir to the crown of Florin. While riding alone one day following her introduction to the kingdom, she is accosted by three men in the woods. These are Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), Iñigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), and Fezzik (André the Giant). As is later revealed, they have been hired by Prince Humperdinck to start a war with Guilder by kidnapping and killing Buttercup. As they sail out to the border between the two countries, they are accosted by someone they take to be the Dread Pirate Roberts. They attempt to flee, but he stays on them. The first left behind to deal with this black costumed, masked figure is the expert swordsman Iñigo. During their fight, he tells the masked man about his exquisite sword, a piece that once belonged to his dead father who had been slayed by a man with six fingers on one hand. The masked man knocks him out and continues in pursuit. Next is Fezzik, who the masked man manages to put in a sleeper hold. The final test comes with the intelligent yet vain Vizzini. Vizzini is killed when he drinks poisoned wine, the result of a game of wits to which he challenges the masked man. He now has his prize, Buttercup, but by this time Prince Humperdinck and his men have realized something is amiss and have gone to find Buttercup. As they flee, it is during a tumble down a hill that the masked man reveals that he is Westley. In desperation, they run into the Fire Swamp, only to navigate its dangers and emerge on the other side right into Prince Humperdinck’s men. Westley is taken prisoner and tortured, though Buttercup believes he is being sent away to spare his life in exchange for her agreeing to marry the prince. Meanwhile, Fezzik and Iñigo, being good chaps and having recovered their spirits, hear through the forest Westley’s screams while being tortured and go to investigate. They find a mostly dead Westley (an important distinction), and take him to Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) for help. They have also learned that the six fingered man is Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), and that he is in the employ of Prince Humperdinck. Having seen Westley’s skill, they believe he could be a valuable ally. Thus, they take Westley to Prince Humperdinck’s castle, jam the magic pill given them by Miracle Max into Westley’s mouth, and storm the ramparts. This is made a little more difficult for Westley as he is completely immobile for a time, the use of his limbs only slowly returning. Still, while Iñigo gets his vengeance, Westley is able to make his way to the chamber where Buttercup is held. He then bluffs his way to getting Prince Humperdinck to let Buttercup go, and the four of them ride off into the sunset. As for the resistant grandson, by the end of the book he is hanging on every word, and invites his grandfather to come again and read the story.
Sometimes The Princess Bride is hard to pin down, tonally speaking. The majority of the time it is a comedy, but there is nothing slapstick about it. Its humor is subtle. At the same time, there are some loftier themes in it that appeal to this Catholic film reviewer. The biggest thing, of course, is the power of true love. It is a power that spurs the characters to do incredible things. With Buttercup and Westley, because of the total authenticity of their feelings for one another, the notion is that nothing, not even death, can keep them apart. What a great way of thinking about God’s love for all of us. Like the love we feel for each other, what God feels for us is nothing tangible. Yet, as Scripture and the whole of the Christian experience through the centuries will tell you, it is something you can feel. In my own experience and in hearing others describe theirs, the one theme is a recognition that God is with us, and it is a bond that can never be broken. It is also something to which we are called to emulate, as best as we can, in our interactions with each other. True love should compel us, where possible, to scale cliffs and cheat death.
Westley is not the only one to come back to life in The Princess Bride. Iñigo’s overriding motivation is to avenge the death of his father. When he finally catches up with Count Rugen, the first part of their duel does not go well. It is only when Iñigo starts uttering his famous mantra, “My name is Iñigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” that he remarkably recovers from being stabbed in the stomach to defeat his enemy. Vengeance is something best left to God because, one way or another, He will always have the last laugh. Yet, because Iñigo is noble and a good person, we root for him all the same.
If you are one of the few people out there who has not seen The Princess Bride, then I suppose you must remedy that to see what all the fuss is about, if for no other reason. Look, it is not a bad movie. Hopefully, my review relayed that one fact. In the end, though, I remain puzzled as to why it elicits such a strong reaction from so many people.