A brief note of impending awesomeness: for the next few days, I will be rambling, sometimes coherently, sometimes not, about The Princess Bride.
But Geraldine, you find yourself saying, isn’t this a travel blog?
To which I will reply, enthusiastically, “OF COURSE IT SORT OF IS.”
And the payoff, travel-wise, is a rather big one, culminating in our visiting Haddon Hall, which served as the setting for Humperdinck’s castle. But I can’t begin to explain the significance of that until I first tell you about my crazed relationship with the film itself.
Like most women my age – deer caught in the headlights of time, our mid-30s barreling down upon us like an SUV with shoddy brakes – I grew up watching The Princess Bride. It became an integral part of my childhood. My parents were divorced when I was very young, and much of the time I gleaned what I needed to know about life from movies. Bride was a prolific teacher, and I learned all sorts of timeless lessons that were entirely relevant to the life of a 7-year-old.
- Shrieking eels always get louder before they’re about to feed on human flesh.
- There’s not a lot of money in revenge.
- Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
- Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.
The problem is that the film didn’t stop at these practical, everyday tips. It also gave me a lot of ideas about the nature of romantic relationships. And that’s a very bad, bad thing. Because (and I realize the blasphemy that is about to escape my lips, but here it is nevertheless): the love story at the heart of the movie is a really, really screwed up one.
I can’t believe I just wrote that, but there it is.
It’s not easy for me to say this. My first love was not my husband, nor any of the boyfriends who preceded him, who now reside in the hazy edges of my memory. My first love was Westley, the film’s dashing protagonist.
(It’s true. I cheated on Jeff Golblum in my youth.)
He was, in my young mind, perfection, and when I dreamed of romance (which was unclear to me in my innocence, but I reasoned it involved lots of hand-holding and kissing and nothing else) it was with someone who was exactly like Westley.
This scene, rewound and replayed countless times, ruined me for a number of years:
And while the main purpose of your adult years is to cringe at the stuff you loved as a kid, I found that when I rewatched the movie recently (I now a decade older than Cary Elwes was when he played the part), my heart still beats a little quicker for The Man in Black. He’s funny and clever; he has the perfect reply for everything and manages to be charming even when he’s been mostly dead all day. The sort of guy who laughs at your jokes and helps you navigate a fireswamp or an awkward family dinner. Who would forgive you for accidentally getting married to someone else.
But when I think of his relationship with Buttercup, that’s where things start to fall apart for me. Because it is terrible. And it skewed my view of romance for the worst. Because while Buttercup has her moments (she jumps into water that’s filled with shrieking eels, she does her best to save Westley after the fire swamp, and she tells Humperdinck to shove it) she’s not a great heroine, and their dynamic is really dysfunctional. Here are some of the cracked out takeaways about love that the movie left me with:
- If you love a guy, don’t actually tell him how you feel. Instead, just torment him and have him do things that you could have totally done yourself, like grabbing a pitcher which is right in front of you.
- If the guy loves you back, he’ll let you boss him around, mumbling “As you wish” instead of ACTUALLY SAYING HE LOVES YOU.
- It’s totally okay to let your beloved believe you’ve been murdered, without sending her so much as a “OMG, J/K, TOTES STILL ALIVE” missive. Leave her wallowing in grief for years, and when she’s engaged to someone else, swoop in, pretending to be the dude who murdered her love. (Seriously, WTF, Westley.)
- Feel free to throw yourself after someone you like, even if you end up causing yourself severe bodily harm in the process.
- When shit hits the fan, you should just stand there helplessly, without making even the slightest effort to help. (Even as a kid, I remember yelling at Buttercup during the ROUS scene, begging her to do anything.)
- When all else fails, contemplate suicide. (Infuriating on so many levels – suicidal thoughts are a serious mental health issue, which the film treats frivolously.)
And while I remember being annoyed by Buttercup (the fireswamp scene, in which Westley simply talks at her and she nods, and then wanders off and almost dies, like, four times, particularly infuriated me), I took the film as gospel, and figured that’s how love worked. Romance was something that happened while you stood idly by and your man took care of everything. You didn’t need to do anything else.
I thought love was a passive thing.
In the years since, I realized that’s utter bullshit. It requires more than just sitting around, waiting to be adored. If you want a storybook romance, you need to write parts of it yourself.
And it hit me, suddenly, that the best partnership in the movie isn’t Buttercup and Westley’s.
It’s Fezzik and Inigo’s.
Think about it for a second.
They had a bromance before the term had even been coined. Vizzini is a total jerk to them, but they ignore it, together. After a particularly cruel barb, Inigo runs over to Fezzik to build him back up again, reminding him of his wonderful talent for rhyme, and that he’s not, in fact, an idiot.
And when Fezzik finds Inigo, drunk in the forest after they’ve been separated, he nurses him through his hangover. He then helps Inigo and Westley storm the castle, not because he has anything to gain personally but because he’s just sort of a mensch like that.
THAT IS WHAT YOU DO FOR PEOPLE YOU LOVE. You cheer them up and remind them that they are wonderful and talented. You take care of them when they’re hungover, and feed them stew, and help them with their pursuits (even if it’s an ill-advised quest for revenge, you withhold judgement because you know that they need to work out some stuff about their dad). You don’t patronize them or withhold information or sit idly by when they need a hand.
You tell them when they’ve done something right. And everyone can see in your face that you mean it.
(Granted, Inigo definitely gets more than he gives, but you get the feeling that the situation were reversed, the handsome Spaniard would totally step up. It’s just where they are right now in their relationship. HE JUST NEEDS TO TAKE TIME TO WORK ON HIS BOOK. I mean revenge. He needs to take time to work on his revenge.)
This revelation hit me late at night, unraveling everything I thought was true about one of my favorite films. I ran into our bedroom and excitedly started telling Rand about it as he brushed his teeth, thinking he would be as stunned by my discovery as I was.
Me: So, my theory is that the relationship you want to emulate in The Princess Bride is not Buttercup and Westley’s.
Him: (through a mouthful of toothpaste) Oh, god, of course not. Their relationship is awful.
Me: Right?! It’s super one-sided and weird.
Him: The best relationship in that movie is clearly the one between Fezzik and Inigo.
I stared at him a moment before pressing my cheek against his back and wrapping my arms around him as he spat foamy toothpaste into the sink.
“I love that you understand everything,” I said.
And I thought of all those unhappy years spent looking for the Westley to my Buttercup, not realizing all I needed was a Fezzik to my Inigo. I wished I could reach back and explain to a younger me how life – how love – worked. But then I think of what Rand says whenever time travel comes up (which is often), and we’re faced with the question of what we’d say to our younger selves about our relationship.
“I don’t think I’d tell myself anything,” he always says. Because he wouldn’t want things to turn out differently. Because he’s happy with ending we wrote for ourselves.