Film Review: Rob Reiner's 1987 Film

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[. . .] In fact, patriarchy stands in the way of the romance that develops between Buttercup and Westley. Their romance is egalitarian and truly romantic. On the contrary, the relationship between Humperdink and his chosen bride -- the titular "princess bride" -- is patriarchal and destructive. The grandfather, who serves as narrator of The Princess Bride, notes that the "law of the land gave Humperdink the right to choose his bride." This is a clear establishment of patriarchal gender roles and state-sanctioned sexism. When it comes down to it, Prince Humperdink seeks to symbolically and actually rape Buttercup. He prohibits her from seeking her own life and happiness independently of him. She is to be his trophy wife. There is a subtext that implies that he seeks Buttercup as a symbolic wife so that he can pursue a homosexual relationship with the six-fingered man.

The Princess Bride is palpably ironic and definitively postmodern in tone and nature. The traditional fairy tale structure is turned upside-down and on its heels. Prince Humperdink lives in a gorgeous fairy tale castle. He has that which little girls are taught they should want. He can give Buttercup fame and fortune, riches and a life of luxury. Yet Buttercup is too strong and independent to be seduced by the emptiness of his wooing, his loveless pleas. She wants only wants true love. In the dream sequence, in which Buttercup imagines her wedding day with Humperdink and the old lady screams "Fool! Fool!" At her, the prince coyly states, "my father said to love her as I loved her and there will be joy." His father never met Buttercup; let alone said this. Therefore, Humperdink's love is false; he lies. Unlike Vizzini, Humperdink is treacherously sociopathic and sadistic.

Humor is executed in The Princess Bride using makeup and music as well as script writing. For example, Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) combines old Ashkenazi Jew with medieval sorcerer humor. The scene in which he opens the window door on his shack is also reminiscent of the scene in the Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy first reaches the Emerald City and knocks on the large door. Monsters in The Princess Bride are wonderfully exaggerated using primitive special effects that are not trying to be too realistic. For instance, the screaming eels and the rodents of unusual size in the fire swamp seem silly and yet they are symbolic elements that Westley and Buttercup must overcome to prove their love for one another. Quips and one-liners also add comic elements to The Princess Bride. For example, Vizzini states randomly, "Never get involved in a land war in Asia."

Music in The Princess Bride also signals the humor in a scene and prevents one from seeming too serious. For instance, lighthearted music is used in the fencing scene between the man in black and Inigo Montoya. The scene also uses hyperbole to underscore the lighthearted nature of the fight. Acrobatics and other dramatic elements are fun and satirical views of what would otherwise be a traditional fencing scene. Another manifestation of humor in The Princess Bride is the continual interplay between fantasy and reality. When the grandfather and the boy offer their commentary on the story, their lines are often hilarious. For example, the grandson states, "I don't believe this" over one sappy scene at the beginning of the story. His voice over anchors the viewer into the two realities of the film and also adds sense of humor. The audience is reminded to not get too wrapped up in the sentimentality of the romance as would happen in a typical romantic comedy or drama film. Similarly, the wedding scene in which the minister leads the "Mawwiage" lecture makes fun of the institution of marriage without mocking true love itself.

True love is established as being rare and special, happening only "once a century." In another scene, Westley states to Buttercup, "this is true love. You think this happens every day?" Inugo Montoya's character mocks stereotypes of the Spaniard when he recognizes the scream of Westley as only that which can come out of true love. Buttercup never said "I do," which distinguishes the difference between marriage and love.

In fact, the difference between true love and marriage is a central element in The Princess Bride. The different types of love and affection are also explored. For example, the final line of the movie is "As you wish," the film's iconic euphemism for "I love you." Only now, the grandfather tells it to his grandson rather than Westley to Buttercup. The filmmakers emphasize the fact that fairy tales only depict one type of love and that type of love is just one of many on the human spectrum. The love of friendship is central to The Princess Bride. For example, Fezzik and Inigo enjoy a tight friendship that persists throughout the film. Their friendship is characterized early in the film when audiences first meet them, because they play a rhyming game that bonds them against Vizzini's authoritarianism.

The editing in The Princess Bride is stellar in that it establishes a fast pace for the film. Relatively short at 98 minutes, The Princess Bride never lags and there is not one extraneous scene. Love between Buttercup and Wesley is established within minutes of meeting them. The Princess Bride unpretentiously fulfills a social and political duty by reformulating fairy tales in a way that is meaningful for modern audiences. "Although children generally appreciate The Princess Bride's pseudo-fairy tale narrative and action-oriented approach, much of the dialogue is designed for adults," (Berardinelli, 2003). Rob Reiner and screenwriter William Goldman rely on solid storytelling, effective pacing, and good sound and editing techniques to create a film that is satirical without being cynical. It has "sweetness and sincerity on its side," (Maslin, 1987). The script contains ample one-liners and quips that are funny, but other comedic elements include the mockery of traditional fairy tales via the use of hyperbole. Cinematic techniques like mis-en-scene make the film visually captivating. The filmmakers also create a story-within -- a story, a literary technique used by Shakespeare in plays like A Midsummer Night's Dream. Ultimately, The Princess Bride succeeds in subverting Disney fairy tales in favor of a modern, gender egalitarian alternative. Perhaps the resounding message of Reiner's The Princess Bride is that good filmmaking is as rare as true love.

References

Berardinelli, J. (2003). The Princess Bride. Retrieved online: http://www.reelviews.net/movies/p/princess_bride.html

Ebert, R. (1987). The Princess Bride. Retrieved online: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19871009/REVIEWS/710090301/1023

Ecroyd, C.S. (1991). Motivating students through reading aloud. The English Journal 80(6).

Henry, R. And Rossen-Knill, D.F. The Princess Bride and the parodic impulse: The seduction of Cinderella. International Journal of Humor Research 11 (1): 43 -- 64, ISSN (Online) 1613-3722, ISSN (Print) 0933-1719, DOI: 10.1515/humr.1998.11.1.43, / / 1998

Maslin, J. (1987). The Princess Bride. The New York Times. Sept 25, 1987. Retrieved online: http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9b0de2d8133df936a1575ac0a961948260

"The Princess Bride," (1987). Variety. Retrieved online: http://www.variety.com/index.asp?layout=review&reviewid=VE1117794148&categoryid=31&query=princess+bride&display=Princess+Bride&cs=1

Prunes, M., Raine, M. & Litch, M. (n.d.). Film analysis. Retrieved online: http://classes.yale.edu/film-analysis/

Reiner, R. (1987). The Princess Bride. Feature film. Directed by Rob Reiner. [END OF PREVIEW]

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