Princess Bride does not pass the #MeToo test.
Summary of the Movie: Princess Bride (1987) gets an angelic 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and is described there:
as a “classic tale of love and adventure as the beautiful Buttercup is kidnapped and held against her will in order to marry the odious Prince Humperdinck, and Westley (her childhood beau, not returned as the Dread Pirate Roberts) attempts to save her).”
The critics’ consensus on Rotten Tomatoes posits the movie as:
A delightfully postmodern fairy tale, The Princess Bride is a deft, intelligent mix of swashbuckling, romance, and comedy that takes an age-old damsel-in-distress story and makes it fresh.
Original Watching: Both descriptions above are fair depictions of how this 1979-born remembers the movie. The “good guy” male characters are amazingly subtle, interesting, kind, brave, in different and myriad ways. Mandy Patinkin’s character, Inigo Montoya, was a Spaniard (diversity of sorts!), an alcoholic capable of beautiful highs and despairing lows and a oath of filial love. Westley is a humble and loyal self-made handsome blonde guy. Andre the Giant, Fezzik (probably my favorite character), is a massive strong unusual man of slow thinking who does not lack intelligence and fills the lack of speed with patience, wisdom and love. And, Princess Buttercup? She was beautiful, like beyond beautiful to me then.
Current Watching: I didn’t remember so much the meta-story of Peter Falk, the grandfather, reading the Princess Bride to his bratty grandson (Fred Savage) who is sick in bed. The book he reads his grandson touches on the complexities of manhood, the many different types of man you can be, and the issues of life (love, difficulties, intrigue). It is a moving interaction between grandfather and grandson over the course of the movie. I cried a bit when Peter Falk says “as you wish” when his grandson softens and wants him to come back the next day to read the story again.
What’s Wrong With It: Princess Bride does not pass the #MeToo Test! Let’s look at it.
1. Rule #1: Movie does not normalize violence (sexual, physical, psychological or verbal) against women. Prince Humperdinck is one bad dude, who uses violence to accomplish his selfish ends. He uses violence against everybody, including torturing and (almost) killing Westley. However, this is a PG movie and his violence against Princess Buttercup is cringe-worthy mainly because he is her betrothed and she lives in his household. He marries her only for her “beauty” and without a family behind her, she is at his complete mercy and an easy pawn in his plans to start war with Gilder. His real plan is to have her killed and make it look like spies from Gilder did it. He imprisons her when they have a disagreement. He threatens and bullies her into a marriage ceremony. It enrages him that Buttercup and Westley truly love each other and he tortures Westley and kills him (almost) on this account. The potential sexual violence on the wedding night looms over everything. The biggest issue is that this violence against women is just a backdrop to the touching story of Westley and Inigo Montoya and Fezzik (and the grandfather and the grandson).
2. Rule #2: Movie contains female characters as complex as the depicted male characters. Big Huge Fat Zero for Princess Bride on this one. There are a total of two female characters:
Princess Buttercup: She is beautiful and haughty and expects to be saved by Westley. It is a mystery as to why she decides to marry Prince Humperdinck in the first place. All we are told is it had been 5 years since Westley left and she thought him dead. She never once tries to save herself from Prince Humperdinck. It’s like she has little agency except through her beauty and haughtiness.
Valerie (Wife of Miracle Max): The good natured and shrewish wife of Miracle Max who saves the day by helping to convince Miracle Max to revive Westley. She is Princess Buttercup’s foil – she is a shriveled, tiny old woman, who shouts and knows her husband’s weaknesses and loves him anyway.
Women are portrayed as beautiful and haughty or old and good natured. The first type causes a lot of problems. Princess Buttercup creates the whole arch of the plot – she is the one kidnapped; she is the one saved; she is the one re-taken; she is the one saved. Princess Buttercup is the problem. Valerie, wife of Miracle Max, is older and wiser and she is the solution. This is in stark contrast to the multiple types of men presented in the story – some more nuanced than others (Inigo and Fezzik compared to Humperdinck and Westley); some good and some bad and some in the middle.
Overall: I’m surprised. You’re surprised. But, our beloved Princess Bride is two big Fezzik thumbs down for #MeToo.