I want to open this article by saying that if anyone here has not seen The Princess Bride then please do that. It’s not only important for this article but it’s just one of the most amazing movies of all time. In my life I have never once met a person who has seen it who didn’t like it. With that said, the characters most people remember are Westley, our swashbuckling hero; Inigo Montoya, who will happily remind you that you killed his father and then give you ample time to prepare for your impending demise; and Fezzik, the giant with a love of rhyme played by the late Andre the Giant. So what awesome parts of the movie go unnoticed? Well, keep reading.
- A Female Main Character
“What’s that?” you ask, utterly confused. “Westley isn’t a girl! Neither is Inigo or Fezzik!” Well no. No they aren’t. They also aren’t the main character. The movie isn’t called The Dread Pirate Roberts or Hello! The Inigo Montoya Story. The movie is called The Princess Bride and if you stop and think about it you will realize that we follow Buttercup much more than we follow any of the other characters. We’re led to believe that Westley bites it in the intro, and then we follow Buttercup as she gets kidnapped and even though Westley saves her we don’t even get a good look at him until he’s about to fight Inigo.
“But she doesn’t fight the bad guys and save the day!” You’re half right. She doesn’t fight the bad guys. The giant and the two master swordsmen do the fighting, not because because they’re a giant and two master swordsmen (swordspeople?). No one argues that Jack Burton is the main character of Big Trouble in Little China, and he plays much more of a supporting role than Buttercup. Plus I think it’s silly to say that Buttercup doesn’t save the day at least once. Remember when they escaped the Fireswamp? While they were surrounded by the bad guys, and Westley was ready to make a fatal last stand, it was Buttercup who got them out of it. Admittedly, it didn’t get them out free and clear but it was the only way they were going to survive.
Of course, some people would say this doesn’t matter because she still fills the role of “Damsel in Distress.” Well, that’s an ok point I suppose. She does get kidnapped, and need to be rescued, but…
- Women Don’t Have to be Strong In the Same Way as Men
I don’t remember when it started, but we have this trend where female characters who are supposed to be strong are basically like men. They fight, they know kung-fu or have superpowers and can punch people out with the best of them! They call this the “strong female character” and in this case strong doesn’t always mean well-written or deep but it actually means physically strong. Of course these women are also usually just sexuality with fists, but that’s a whole different topic.
Buttercup is not a fighter and she DID need to be rescued, but she was not a meek little girl. She spent her entire time as a captive looking for opportunities to escape, at least one of which she took when she went overboard and tried to swim to shore. After her initial captors are dispatched, she takes the first opportunity she sees to shove the Dread Pirate Roberts down a hill where she could have made a run for it even if the pirate weren’t injured. Also, she remembers to worry about the Rodents of Unusual Size in the Fireswamp even though Westley had written them off and she picks up on Prince Humperdink’s deception about the ships he sent looking for Westley. She may not be a master fighter, but she is strong willed and resourceful and very intelligent. She’s not strong the same way that the men are, but that does not make her weak.
- Buttercup Isn’t Eye Candy.
Alright, let me make sure that I’m being clear. I’m not saying that Princess Buttercup, or the actress that played her, isn’t absolutely gorgeous. What I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter because that’s not why she’s there. The character is supposed to be a commoner and in many ways she’s fairly average. The character is certainly not done up to be “Hollywood hot”, making her a much more accessible role model for a much larger percentage of the population. Similarly, her outfit isn’t there to show anything off or sexualize her appearance. I’m sure that part of the reason for that is that this movie is aimed at young people, but it is still good practice and a good demonstration of how sexualizing your characters isn’t necessary.
I’m going to use one of my current favorite actresses in one of my current favorite roles to make my comparison: Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff in the MCU. Ms. Johansson is a wonderful performer, and the character has gone from very well-written (Like in the second Cap movie) to fairly uninteresting (Iron Man 2) but the one constant for the character is that she is, as I said above, sex with fists. No matter how badass she gets and no matter how good the acting is, she’s there because Scarlett Johansson in a leather bodysuit is a draw for a huge population.
The purpose of the above example is to show that Princess Buttercup is basically everything that the Black Widow is not, and that makes her a much better symbol of female empowerment. She shows that you can be strong without kicking ass, and you can be beautiful without being sexualized.
- The Power of the Common Person
The one thing that all of the heroes in this story have is that none of them are wealthy or even particularly gifted (minus Fezzik, who admittedly doesn’t even exercise). Westley was born a farm boy and Buttercup was a commoner. Inigo was the child of a blacksmith who spent his entire life mastering his art. The heroes are all examples of a message that more people need. For most of them, it’s “If you devote yourself to something, you will improve and become skilled.” Inigo wasn’t a fencing prodigy. Similarly, Westley spent years learning to fence and survive to gain his skills.
The message doesn’t stop there. Early on Humperdink says of Buttercup “She was once a commoner like you, but perhaps you will not find her so common anymore.” To Humperdink, being common is a disadvantage but the very people he looks down on accomplish things that he could never imagine. Westley survives the Fireswamp and survives having “The Macine” ramped up to fifty (supposedly draining fifty years of his life away). Inigo and Fezzik storm Humperdink’s castle with relative ease and put down his guards and his right hand man, Count Rugen. And Buttercup? Well, when taken from being a commoner to a princess she resists and makes it very clear that she would rather die than marry her prince.
- Not Letting Others Define You
I think that this is probably the best one. When the prince and the king and even the kingdom want Buttercup to be the princess and marry Humperdink, she chooses not to. She chooses to not be a blushing bride or a meek captive or any of the things that were expected of her because that was not who she wanted to be. Westley was a farm boy who became a bloodthirsty pirate. He still chose to be a hero and abandon his piracy to come back for his loved one. He is a kind and merciful man even though the world expects him to be a cutthroat.
The person who I think deserves the most attention here though is Fezzik. Fezzik is a giant and his entire life (and through most of the movie) that is what defined him. People not only expected him to be super strong (which he was), but they also expected him to be stupid. He never identified himself as smart, he never became educated, and he spends the early parts of the film having Vizzini call him names. Once Vizzini is dead and the giant is reunited with his friend, he starts to realize that he’s more than a brute and the scene near the end where he brings the horses up to the castle shows that he’s thinking for himself and doing a very solid job of it. Inigo makes a point to say to him “You did something right” because Fezzik has never had his ability to think reinforced.
So… there you have it. Five reasons why The Princess Bride, one of the most awesome adventure movies of all time, is also a film with a lot of extremely positive messages. If you haven’t watched it, watch it. And if you have kids, this is a movie they should grow up watching. Seriously, I believe that they will be better people for it.