Be it the death of a loved one or a celebrity you held dear, changes you weren’t prepared for, or even an election that’s run cold on both sides, 2016 hasn’t been easy. In all honesty, it’s been exhausting. Exhausting for you. Exhausting for me. In my lifetime- I’m relatively young, mind you- I can’t remember a year that’s brought this many hardships to such a massive amount of people. It’s disheartening to think that nearly everyone around you is feeling the same exhaustion, sadness, and fear that you are. That’s life, I suppose. There will never come a day that these trials do not exist, which is why we have television, why we have books, why we have memes that we store on our phones to look at and laugh when the world in front of us sucks. These things serve as an escape from a harsh reality and they remind us, even for the slightest of moments, what it feels like to be safe, to be happy, and to be a part of a world more enjoyable than our own. Perhaps there is no greater example of this purely joyous existence than the 98 minutes spent watching The Princess Bride.
My first viewing of The Princess Bride was magical. On a lazy Friday, my sixth grade English/Math teacher (math isn’t my strong suit, so you can imagine how conflicting that class was for me) decided that, rather than teach us anything new for the day, she would play us one of her favorite movies. I stuffed my math book back into the fiery depths of hell from which it came (in the desk, we didn’t carry books home on weekends) and I gushed with excitement as she wheeled in a cart with a box television resting atop it’s metal shelf. On a lower shelf of the cart and attached by cables to the television, was a VCR. Remember those? My teacher pulled the VHS from a drawer of her desk, manually pressed “play” because one of the other teachers had misplaced the remote, and shut off the lights. On a day in which she planned to teach her class nothing, she gifted me with knowledge I’d never forget- most notably, never get involved in a land war in Asia.
Adapted for the screen by William Goldman from his own 1973 novel (which is excellent as well), The Princess Bride was helmed by legendary director Rob Reiner. In order to preserve the novel’s narrative style within the film, the story is presented as a book being read by a grandfather to his sick grandson. The main plot of the film, however, follows Westley, a poor farmhand, accompanied by befriended companions, Inigo Montoya, a Spaniard/masterful fencer seeking revenge for the death of his father, and Fezzik, a lovable, rhyming giant, as he attempts to rescue his true love, Buttercup, from the repulsive Prince Humperdinck- who aims to have her murdered as pretext to begin a war. With an infectiously light tone, several funny moments, lovable/impossible-to-forget characters, and dialogue you’ll be speaking in your sleep, The Princess Bride exudes an unbridled joy that you’ll become addicted to.
Speaking of lovable characters, let’s take a look at four of the greatest characters ever created:
Westley/Dread Pirate Roberts/The Man in Black
Westley, portrayed by Cary Elwes, is a young man from the country of Florin, who worked on a lowly farm as a helping hand. Constantly tormented with requests by Buttercup, the farm-owner’s beautiful daughter, Westley only ever replied “as you wish” and complied with her requests. Westley found himself in love with Buttercup, despite her behavior, and she eventually found herself in love with him too. Being poor, Westley set out on a wealth-seeking journey so that the two might be married someday, however, only weeks after his departure, his ship was boarded by the nefarious Dread Pirate Roberts and his crew, who were infamous for always killing their captives- causing Westley to be presumed dead. This is The Princess Bride, though, so awful things of this nature aren’t allowed to happen.
It’s revealed that the Dread Pirate Roberts hadn’t murdered Westley. After pleading for his life to be spared because of his deep love and affection for Buttercup, Roberts proposed for Westley to become his valet. While working under the Dread Pirate, Westley learned anything in the world he wanted to learn from the crew, including fencing and fighting, and eventually became friends with Roberts himself. Three years after his capture, Roberts decided that he’d become so rich that he’d like to retire, and so he revealed to Westley that he was not the Dread Pirate Roberts after all:
“I am not Dread Pirate Roberts. My real name is Ryan, and I inherited this ship from the previous Dread Pirate Roberts, who was not Roberts either. His name was Cummerbund. The real Roberts had been retired for over 15 years, and living like a king in Patagonia.”
Ryan then explained that the name Dread Pirate Roberts was the important thing for inspiring the necessary fear, because no one would surrender to “the Dread Pirate Westley.” So, they sailed ashore, assigned an entirely new crew, and Ryan took up the position of first mate, all the time calling Westley “Roberts.” Once the crew believed, he left the ship, and Westley himself had been the Dread Pirate Roberts ever since. Finally having a life fit enough for he and Buttercup to be married, Westley returns and finds that she has been kidnapped from Prince Humperdinck by Vizzini, the criminal Sicilian and self-proclaimed genius, and his goons, Inigo and Fezzik.
Buttercup/The Princess Bride
As portrayed by Robin Wright, Buttercup is a beautiful farm girl from the country of Florin who falls in love with Westley. When he is presumed dead at the hands of the Dread Pirate Roberts, Buttercup becomes devastated, locking herself away in her room and forgoing food and sleep. In the end, she decides that, while she may live on, she will never allow herself to fall in love again. Five years after Westley’s presumed death, Buttercup is forced to become betrothed to Prince Humperdinck, although she does not love him. While riding her horse one day (the only perk of being forced to marry a self-righteous prick), she comes across three men who claim to be lost circus performers. The men knock her unconscious, and when she finally awakens, she realizes that she has been kidnapped by the men named Vizzini, Inigo, and Fezzik. Vizzini, the band’s leader, announces his plans to start a war with the neighboring country of Guilder by killing the princess and leaving her body on Guilder soil- a plan developed by Humperdinck himself. Inigo and Fezzik, however, aren’t fond of the plan to kill Buttercup, and later help to rescue her.
Buttercup is briefly reunited with Westley after he conquers the kidnappers as they are pursued by Prince Humperdinck and his men. They survive a stroll through the Fire Swamp (even having been attacked by R.O.U.S’s), but are met by Humperdinck on the other side. With Westley’s life again in danger, Buttercup agrees to marry Humperdinck in exchange for Westley’s life. Humperdinck agrees, but orders Westley be tortured to death anyway. As mentioned, however, this is The Princess Bride, and awful things of this nature aren’t allowed to happen… except, in this case, it kind of does. Westley dies, well, mostly.
Buttercup plans on committing suicide rather than be married to Humperdinck, to which the Prince replies, “Please consider marrying ME as an alternative to suicide.” Buttercup reluctantly agrees, fully expecting Westley to come and save her. When Humperdinck furiously reveals that Westley would not be coming for her after all, Buttercup plans to plunge a dagger in her own heart on the night of their wedding. For a movie so fervently joyous, it sure sounds depressing while speaking of it.
Played by Mandy Patinkin, Inigo Montoya is a Spaniard who resides in Florin and works as a henchman for Sicilian criminal, Vizzini. As a young boy, Inigo’s father, a great swordcrafter, was murdered in cold blood by a six-fingered man named Count Rugen as Inigo watched on. Furious, the ten-year-old Inigo challenged Rugen to a sword fight in which he found himself disarmed by the Count in just a matter of seconds. Impressed by Inigo’s obvious talent, however, Rugen spares Inigo’s life and leaves him with a scar on each cheek. Devastated by the loss, Inigo dedicated his life to becoming the greatest fencer in the world and claiming revenge upon the six-fingered man.
While working with Vizzini, Inigo becomes caught up in the murderous plan to kill Buttercup and begin a war. Though he does not find the plan honorable, he follows Vizzini’s orders. Upon being chased down by a man in black (Westley), Vizzini commands Inigo to wait atop the Cliffs of Insanity and murder the stranger with his sword. Rather than follow Vizzini’s dishonorable plan, however, Inigo helps Westley reach the top of the cliffs alive (though giving his word as a Spaniard didn’t help gain Westley’s trust in the slightest) and challenges him to a sword fight rather than murdering him in cold blood. In the greatest bit of swordsmanship ever put to film, Westley disarms Inigo, who is gracious in defeat, and knocks him unconscious rather than killing him.
After his defeat, Inigo becomes a useless drunk until he is rescued by Fezzik, his loyal friend, and finally becomes the hero he was destined to be- helping Westley to reunite with Buttercup and finally defeating the evil six-fingered man in the process. I want my father back, you son of a bitch!
Andre the Giant is perhaps the only man in the entire world who could have brought justice to the character of Fezzik, a giant that made up in brawn what he lacked in knowledge. Though the love of Westley and Buttercup is the driving force of The Princess Bride, Fezzik, in ways, is the heart of the story. While unrivaled in brute strength (you ARE the Brute Squad), the character is also elite in loyalty and compassion.
Employed by Vizzini, Fezzik doesn’t take issue with subverting the law, however, he refuses to fight dirty. Inigo is his best friend and the only person who has ever judged him based on anything other than his size. At the ire of their Sicilian leader, the two play fun rhyming games, as Fezzik possesses the skill to find a matching rhyme for any word (Anybody want a peanut?). When ordered by Vizzini to throw a rock at Westley’s head and kill him, Fezzik refuses, instead challenging Westley to an honorable fight. Skill against skill alone. Westley is quick to point out that the odds aren’t in his favor while fighting a giant, but that’s of no fault to Fezzik- he doesn’t even exercise. During the fight, Westley succeeds in putting Fezzik to sleep with a choke-hold.
After his defeat, Fezzik joins the Brute Squad and eventually reunites with Inigo, helping to get him sober. Fezzik joins Inigo and Westley as they storm the castle and rescue Buttercup from the tyranny of Humperdinck.
Though only a modest box office success, The Princess Bride received critical acclaim and quickly found a massive cult audience filled with people that appreciate the joyous escape in which the film provides. Truthfully, there is a little something for everyone in The Princess Bride. Be it romance, sport, action, adventure, comedy, horror, fantasy, or just the characters in general, there’s bound to be something in the film that everyone can gravitate towards- not liking anything at all is, well, inconceivable. This is a perfect 98-minute escape from anything that might be troubling you. The world needs The Princess Bride.