The Princess Bride

Year of Release: 1987     Directed by Rob Reiner.  Starring Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Peter Falk, Fred Savage, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, and Chris Sarandon.

Since you are reading this review, I would like to say: “Thank you very much.  Very nice of you.  Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.”  So begins a grandfather (Peter Falk) as he reads a book to his sick grandson. (Fred Savage)  Not just any book, mind you.  A book that his father used to read to him, he read to his son, and now he is going to read it to his grandson.  A book about fencing, torture, revenge, poison, escape, miracles, and true love that should keep even the most skeptical audience awake.  And his grandson is quite skeptical about this book, The Princess Bride.

Unfortunately, many movie viewers seem to share the grandson’s  skepticism.  While the film certainly does have a decent number of ardent fans, there is also a large number of equally ardent detractors who focus on the small flaws and write it off as a dumb film for children.  The Princess Bride is not a children’s film; it is a film that viewers of all ages can enjoy, with solid moral messages about true love, excellent performances, great directing, hysterical humor, a very well crafted story arc, and countless quotable lines.

The story concerns Westley, (Cary Elwes) a farm boy who worked for Buttercup, (Robin Wright) doing everything that she wished.  Eventually she realized that he loved her, and was surprised to discover that she loved him in return.

Since Westley had no money, he set out to make his fortune and was murdered by the Dread Pirate Roberts.  Buttercup swore she would never love again when she heard the news.  Several years passed, and Prince Humperdinck (Charles Sarandon) chose Buttercup to be his bride; thus she became the titular princess bride.  He knew that she loved someone else, but he said that she would learn to love him in time.  On the day of their engagement, she is kidnapped by Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik. (Wallace Shawn, Mandy Patinkin, and Andre the Giant respectively)  Vizzini plans to murder her in order to start a war, a prestigious line of work with a long and glorious tradition, even though Inigo and Fezzik don’t think that is right.  As inconceivable as it may seem, Westley had escaped death from the pirates, and when Buttercup learns this, she knows that he will come for her.

Almost all the protagonists are driven by a form of love.  True love is shown to be unconditional, and the movie portrays all forms of love: affection, friendship, romance, and charity.  Even in the face of death, Westley keeps going in order to save Buttercup.  He understands the sacrificial nature of love, which is first shown when he was a farm boy.  He would always say, “As you wish,” to Buttercup, showing that he was willing to sacrifice himself for her.  Buttercup is willing to risk danger, such as the fire swamp, to be with Westley, and will sacrifice her happiness for his safety.  Inigo Montoya is driven by love for his father and never abandons his search for his father’s murderer.  Director Rob Reiner said that the main theme to this film is a grandfather who visits his grandson to teach him that true love is the most wonderful thing in the world.  The Princess Bride shows that a true sacrificial love will conquer all obstacles, regardless of whether that love is between family, friends, or lovers.

The score by Mark Knopfler utilizes a docile theme played on guitar for true love in all its forms amongst all the characters.  Variations of this theme occur whenever love becomes the focus of a scene, whether that is Westely and Buttercup working on the farm, Inigo Montoya discussing his father, or even Fezzik helping his friends.

There are some small flaws in the screenplay.  Nearly all the characters have omniscient knowledge regarding actions and motives of other characters.  For instance Inigo Montoya somehow knows that Westley loves Buttercup, and that she is engaged to Humperdinck when he had no way of learning that information.  However, the omniscience of all the characters contributes to the whimsical, fairy-tale atmosphere and can easily be overlooked in light of the film’s charm, humor, and other strengths.

The arc of the story is nearly perfect.  The multiple conflicts simultaneously reach their low points as well as climax and resolve together.  Once Westley’s conflict for Buttercup reaches its climax, the film immediately cuts to the climax of Inigo Montoya’s conflict.  An early line of Westley’s foreshadows several developments and setbacks that occur later in the film.

The entire cast gives great performances.  Cary Elwes and Robin Wright are endearing as the young lovers.  Mandy Patinkin is energetic and compelling as Inigo Montoya, bringing conviction and believability to a role that easily could have been a goofy stereotype.  Peter Falk is perfect as the caring but tough-love grandfather.  Chris Sarandon and Christopher Guest are malevolent and completely embrace their evil actions, which adds to much of the humor.  Finally Billy Crystal and Carol Kane have an hysterical cameo as an eccentric miracle man and his wife.  Reiner reportedly had to leave the set for their scene because he was laughing so hard.

So let me explain.  No, there is too much; let me sum up.  The Princess Bride is a great film with great themes and great craftsmanship that the entire family can enjoy, not just watch together.  There’s a shortage of near perfect films in the world.  It would be a pity to miss this one.

Content Advisory: Mild peril including a couple scenes of torture, some swashbuckling, an instance of profanity and mild crass language.                        MPAA rating: PG

Suggested Audience: Kids and up with discernment.

Personal Recommendation: A+

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