Last weekend, I watched The Princess Bride again for the first time in years. They’re doing a sermon series relating to movies this summer at my church, discussing some of the spiritual lessons we can learn from a group of movies chosen by the teens in the church, and they’re doing screenings of those movies at the church. I have The Princess Bride on DVD, but I thought it would be fun to watch it with a group, and there was popcorn, so I went to that showing.
Although this is one of my all-time favorite movies, I’ve never been overly thrilled with the romance part of it. I don’t even really see it as a romance, in spite of all the talk about True Love. I enjoy it mostly because it’s the rare thing that is both a hilarious spoof and a near-perfect example of the thing that it’s spoofing. It manages to make fun of the tropes of the fairytale fantasy adventure while actually carrying out the tropes brilliantly. I love the humor, the quotable lines, the swashbuckling, and the emotion in the more serious moments. The performances are all quite good. I’m still astonished that Cary Elwes never became a big-name leading man. He manages to pull off the tricky combination of snark and emotional sincerity, and there’s some quite amazing physical acting during the part when Westley is still not back to full strength and he doesn’t have a lot of control over his body. I suppose he’s done well enough in working steadily from his early 20s into his 50s, but aside from this and Men in Tights, he’s never really been a leading man (which could have been his choice — he may have wanted to be more of a character actor).
But the romance has never really worked for me, mostly because the “romance” part takes place largely offscreen in the prologue. Basically, she abuses him, he puts up with it, and they fall in love. I can maybe see what she sees in him, since he tolerates her abuse and follows her orders. We can see that he loves her, but we never get any indication as to why. We don’t know what he sees in her. We’re just told that it’s True Love. I think that’s part of the fairytale spoof, since that’s how it goes in the stories. They fall instantly in love for no apparent reason (usually in the stories, the guy falls so madly in love with one look at the girl that he’s willing to put his life on the line to win her), and that love is strong enough to be magical. The book is actually a little snarky about it and ends with the hint that things may not go so wonderfully after that one perfect kiss.
But I did kind of get it better after this weekend’s viewing and the sermon. Westley’s love for Buttercup is unconditional and unshakable. He has absolute faith in the power of True Love, and that’s what sustains him and even saves his life more than once. He’s spared by the Dread Pirate Roberts because of his declaration of true love, then he’s brought back from being mostly dead because true love is what earns his miracle. Meanwhile, Buttercup’s faith wavers. She gives up on Westley as dead when she gets word that his ship was attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts and becomes engaged to the prince. Then, in spite of seeing how skilled Westley is in being able to beat the swordsman, the giant, and the mastermind and survive all the dangers of the Fire Swamp, she bargains for their safety, agreeing to marry the prince in exchange for Westley’s life. It’s a sacrifice, but it’s also a lack of faith in him. It actually makes for a neat religious metaphor, with God’s unfailing love and humanity’s fickleness and loss of faith.
What matters in that story is the fact that Westley’s love is so deep and powerful that it sustains him through everything he experiences, in spite of Buttercup’s general uselessness. The depth of his love is what’s so romantic about the story.
Though, when it comes to romantic fantasy, Stardust is my preference.
This week, the sermon is on Captain America. I’ve seen it on TV, but I checked it out of the library to rewatch (they showed it Sunday night, since it’s a holiday this week, and I didn’t want to go out). The preacher’s been making Avengers references in his sermons for a while, so this should be interesting.