Movie Review - The Princess Bride

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Rob Reiner
Act III Comunications

Does it ever happen to you that, while you’re watching a favorite movie the second time (or maybe the thirty-second time), you notice a mistake—a “blooper”? Usually your first reaction is to wonder how you missed something that obvious all the previous times you saw the movie. And then the scene is kind of ruined for you ever afterward. There’s no more being swept off into the flow of the scene, because your attention immediately goes to the glaring mistake they made. Sometimes, after analyzing movies you haven’t seen in a long time, you find out that those old favorites were packed with blunders. Or, actually, they were more like vices in this case. And, of course, the first reaction is to ask yourself, “How did I manage to miss that?”

The Princess Bride is one such movie—the kind with enough anti-biblical messages to just about start its own religion or its own political party, and yet with enough really, really inexplicable appeal that those messages somehow never get caught. You’ve got time to glance over the top ten, haven’t you?

I’m assuming you’re already familiar with the movie and the main characters, so the review is going to head straight into the content without much explanation of the story.

1. Christianity is not good.
Christian audiences may be laughing at just the “Impressive Clergyman,” but, when it comes to stereotypes in the movies, the world doesn’t make such fine distinctions as clergy/laity, Roman-Catholic/Orthodox/Protestant, or even boring-but-reverent services and not-boring-but-reverent church services. Making fun of the clergy wasn’t the wisest thing to do in the first place (for them or us); and considering that the “Impressive Clergyman” is the only example of committed Christianity, The Princess Bride is far from leading anybody (including ourselves) toward a higher view of our religion. The name of Jesus Christ is used as an expletive in this movie.

2. Ancestor worship is good.
But The Princess Bride doesn’t leave us stranded as atheists; they just give all the positive attention to another religion. I don’t like bashing myself over the head with these things, but Inigo Montoya’s kneeling in prayer to his long-dead father really should have affected my level of enjoyment for at least that part of the movie, even back then. Paganism isn’t funny, you know—especially when praying to the ancestors appears to work. Inigo swears by God when he’s surprised, and by his father’s soul when he’s serious. He repents… to his father. He gives up his life in religious devotion… to his father.

3. True love is something that just “happens”.
Westley’s word, not mine. To clarify the message, the narrator points out that, after Westley’s supposed death, Buttercup—“despite Humperdink’s assurance that she would grow to love him”—is (apparently, rightly) convinced that she is incapable of directing her heart. And, in case we still weren’t sure what they meant, Humperdink goes on to state, “You truly love each other, and so you might have been truly happy. Not one couple in a century has that chance.” If true love was something you could work toward, a lot more than one couple in a century would have it… and, outside of The Princess Bride, they do.

4. “True” love is not biblical love. It’s better.
If you look at 1 Corinthians 13, you’ll find a list of descriptions of biblical love, such as “is not arrogant or rude,” “does not insist on its own way,” and “is not irritable or resentful.”* Somehow, Buttercup manages to be arrogant and rude to Westley and suddenly “realize” that she had true love for him. Westley, in turn, is irritable and resentful toward Buttercup when he thinks that she willingly entered into an engagement with somebody else, and goes so far in insisting on his own way as to drag her, shove her and threaten to strike her—and supposedly she’s the one who needs reminding about the nature of “true love”. If the moviemakers had thought that biblical love was the best love, they would have made the “true” romance of The Princess Bride look a lot more like it.

5. Criminals are victims of poverty and social prejudice who, despite their persistent interest in crime, are really basically good people.

Inigo and Fezzik are both criminals, both working for the criminal Vizzini; neither of them willing to stop working for a criminal, and neither of them are ever punished or even disliked for their crimes, even though they never repent of them. Justification, according to The Princess Bride: they’re both victims, the one of poverty and the other of social prejudice… that, and they’re really basically good people. Westley fits into this category, too, but we’ll talk about him later.

6. People in authority are evil or stupid (or both).
Remember Humperdink? How about Count Rugen, the king, the captain of the guard, and every soldier that either fought with or fled from the good guys? I think that’s all of them.

7. Suicide is, at best, noble; at worst, a good way to get attention.
You know, Buttercup really was about to kill herself there at the end (a noble act, we’re supposed to think). Unless you believe that taking a human life is a good deed even outside of war and self-defense, that should be considered an offensive element. Suicide wasn’t just an in-the-moment decision for Buttercup, either. “If you tell me I must marry you in ten days,” she said, “please believe I will be dead by morning.” This ends up being a good (even noble) way to get attention.

8. Marital problems, drunkenness and death are all funny.
Miracle Max and Valerie. Inigo. Vizzini.

9. Sarcasm, name calling and mockery are natural expressions of superiority.
“Pig,” “slimiest weakling ever to crawl the earth,” “miserable, vomitous mass,” and “warthog-faced buffoon” are hardly high-level attacks on an opponent’s character (as would be obvious to us, if Humperdink was the one using them), but Westley and Buttercup don’t mind stooping, apparently. The sarcasm and mockery is about as vulgar as the name-calling, though maybe a little harsher, and it’s only supposed to be impressive when it comes from the good guys.

10. Piracy, theft, vigilante revenge and killing for hire may be illegal, but they’re still acceptable, heroic or even funny… as long as they’re done by the right person.
It may be easy to forget that Fezzik is a hired killer (and that he’s actually willing to kill people for hire) because of the humorous lines about the fight being “sportsmanlike”; and, with all the witty back-and-forth between Westley and Inigo, it may be easy to forget that Inigo, too, wants to kill a man, for no other purpose than “to pay the bills.” Basically, they’re friendly hit men. The only reason Westley can hold them “in the highest respect” is because he is guilty of pretty much the same thing. He is a pirate, a friend of pirates and a leader of pirates—a man who freely admits, “I kill a lot of people,” and who changes his name because “no one would surrender” to him otherwise. And he’s the man we’re supposed to cheer for through the entire movie.
Meanwhile, Inigo has, in his childhood, heroically challenged a bad murderer (as opposed to a good murderer like himself) to a duel, and dedicated his life—and much of the movie—to the pursuit of illegal (and therefore unjustified) revenge. When Inigo’s vigilante revenge is accomplished, Westley recommends piracy as a new life mission.

If The Princess Bride had been a well-made or inspiring movie, I might have been able to figure out why I used to like it. I used to like a lot of movies that were characterized by negative elements, but all but this one had good acting, decent computer effects and at least average writing and directing. Noticing the lack of quality filmmaking in The Princess Bride is a bit like noticing a whole string of “bloopers” of the ruin-the-scene-for-you kind.

But the biggest drawback to enjoying The Princess Bride isn’t that it’s a low-class movie with minimal artistic appeal. That’s just adding insult to injury. The main problem is that the content—and this review only covered part of it—is an avalanche of blunders of the “How did I miss that?” kind. I’ve only highlighted ten of the social, political and religious themes in The Princess Bride that are unbiblical, and while different people will rate those individual themes higher or lower on their scale of personal concern, it is impossible to justify all of them biblically. And because those themes are consistent throughout the movie, it ultimately becomes impossible to justify the movie, biblically. Not only did the bad outweigh the good, the bad is the part of the movie we’re supposed to enjoy—to laugh at, or sigh over. For this reason (and for a couple of other ones that didn’t make it into the review) The Princess Bride is not worth watching.

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