The Princess Bride

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Framework: Story within a story – parody. The boy is sick and the tale of heroics and selflessness in the face of adversity and overwhelming odds cures what ails him (also, he’s a sexist little prick).


Parody is an exaggeration or intensification of a style, mannerism, etc. for comedic purpose. It’s a non-abrasive form of gentle criticism that points out the ridiculous or inane, but is more engaging and accessible than dry, academic criticism. This is the critical difference between parody and satire – a parody wants to make us all laugh, whereas a satire wants to bring about social or political or religious (etc.) change.

Other examples of parodies –

  • basically everything Mel Brooks ever did (Men in Tights – parodies Robin Hood; Spaceballs – parodies Star Wars; Young Frankenstein – duh)
  • ditto Monty Python (Quest for the Holy Grail – parodies King Arthur)
  • Austin Powers (parodies James Bond)
  • Galaxy Quest (parodies Star Trek)
  • Shaun of the Dead (parodies zombie movies)
  • This is Spinal Tap

There are two types of parodies in my opinion – good ones (like those listed above), and shitty ones, like Not Another Teen Movie, I Kissed a Vampire, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie – clearly you see the effort put into the titles alone.

Parody has been elevated to an art form rather than a mere genre in skilled hands like those of Mel Brooks, John Cleese and Eric Idle. Some people may underestimate the effort it takes to pull off a great parody because it looks so easy from the outside: it’s not an original concept, so the bones of the story are already scaffolded, the assumptions is just to exaggerate the story/characters and insert a lot of jokes. When masterfully done, these movies bring great joy and allow us to laugh at ourselves. When done poorly, they’re just unfunny, mean, or bullying. Rob Reiner, director, hit the bulls-eye with film interpretation of The Princess Bride. It’s not a terribly great movie, but as a parody, it’s a thing of beauty.

So what is The Princess Bride parodying?


The film is adapted from a book of the same name, written by William Goldman in 1973. 1973 was a politically charged year. Americans were still reeling from Watergate and the climate was strife with disillusionment. 1973 is only 10 years from the “Camelot” era of JFK. Nixon’s predecessor, LBJ, boasted a thriving economy with a low unemployment rate. Things were good, at least up until the Vietnam War, which for many began the disillusionment continued by Watergate.

In an article by Nathaniel Rich (, he posits that the point of the book is that life isn’t fair. This is a sentiment that people in the 80’s were beginning to relate to in increasing numbers. It was the beginning of the end of the middle class – people were already finding it harder to maintain a household with one earner, and the government that promises to protect our best interests showed itself to be corrupt and self-interested.

But rather than treat the situation ascerbically and write a satire, Goldman treats with parody. Humperdinck, a scheming politician who wants to kill Buttercup in order to manufacture a justicification to go to war with a neighboring town, isn’t a terribly effective villain. He’s intelligent and personable enough to be an accepted ruler, but he is easily outwitted and outmanned by Westley and and company. This is true of most of the villains in the movie.

Meanwhile, Miracle Max, who has power to BRING PEOPLE BACK FROM THE DEAD, is an indifferent and insensitive character who has commodified his healing abilities instead of helping people for their own sakes (HELLOOOO, BIG PHARMA).

On to the lady problem. Buttercup is clearly a pawn. She is repeatedly kidnapped and has her future dictated to her by evil men.

Perhaps most interesting is the Dread Pirate Roberts, who seems to be the ultimate evil in the universe. But he doesn’t even exist anymore, if he ever did at all. Enterprising men have been capitalizing on his reputation for years, with no one the wiser. The fear that people have for the pirate is what enables this bogey man to continue his reign of terror. Had the people not been afraid, his reputation would have held no power over them. This may be the parody of our political system – being a democracy, we the people have imbued the government with power, and they wield that power over us like a threat.

But regardless, Westley perseveres and comes out victorious. Perhaps the moral is that with the right combination of cunning, physical prowess, and most importantly, friends, the common guy can beat the establishment, get the girl, and gain lifelong lackeys.

Relationship characteristics:

  • Playground rules
  • Female more powerful than male
    • Later subverted by her being dominated and he rescues her, reasserting his role as the stronger character
  • TRUE LOVE!!! ZOMG!!!


  • Commoners v. royalty
  • True Love conquers all
  • We must rape those we capture
  • Warring countries/war creates opportunities for villainy/innocents caught up power struggles
  • Speaking in rhymes is charming
  • Magical landscape – non-time-specific setting
  • Word play – indication of intelligence more valuable than brawn
  • Honor and vindication – good triumphing over despicable and socially sanctioned evil
  • Good guys – identify and pursue their intended enemy without hurting others; bad guys – further their own ends at any cost of human loss/suffering
  • Everyone has an enemy is this movie – we can tell the good guys from the bad by how willing they are to shed blood senselessly. They prefer honorable battle/fighting with fair odds over manipulations and deceit. However, outwitting the enemy is not considered a breach of honor and is not in the same class of fiendishness as trickery and deceit:
  • The pirate ship, the literal vehicle for Westley, is called “Revenge”
  • Dread Pirate Roberts – men capitalize on his name to “inspire necessary fear”. People accept facts as they are presented to them without questioning their validity.
  • The ridiculousness of the excessive ceremonials of the religious traditions, evidenced by the impressive clergyman’s speech impediment.

Feminism Stuff

  • Boy shows extreme distaste at being forced to listen to a romantic story; becomes enthralled in spite of himself
  • Buttercup does not play the damsel in distress, but tries to save her own ass; fails repeatedly – lack of agency even in the face of perseverance.
  • She in fact watches helplessly as her savior is attacked and humped by a rodent of unusual size. When she does try to help, she half-asses it and puts herself in jeopardy.
  • Her idea of saving him is relinquishing herself to Humperdinck. We are expected to take this as a heroic act – all that she is capable of within her limited agency.
  • Westley feels compelled to go and seek his manhood by earning it through adventure and experience. Buttercup is elevated from a commoner to a princess by the agency of a man who desires her.
  • Westley is worldly and competent (iocane duel), whilst Buttercup is naive and trusting. He even outwits the marriage procedure.
  • Men are driving the action, Buttercup is a pawn; essentially an object to be obtain. The MacGuffin.
  • She sends him away to save him… then expects him to come back and save her… gives up responsibility for her own future.
  • As with all classic tragic heroines, decides to kill herself rather than the horrible man that forced marriage on her.
  • The movie is called THE PRINCESS BRIDE, but it’s not really about her. It’s kind of like The Maltese Falcon. The princess bride is the object of the movie, not the subject.

Thoughts and nit-pickings:

Why did Westley feel compelled to leave Buttercup behind (beginning of movie)? Could the unpleasantness have been avoided had true love not been separated? If that’s true, what does that say about Inigo’s misfortune? Do we deserve the circumstances in which we find ourselves? Are those in misfortunate situations guilty of bad decisions?

… how the hell does a mask covering only the eyes adequately disguise a man from his so-called true love? Does it indicate that the uncovered mouth – the words we speak – are not our true selves and can deceive others, while our eyes, the windows to our souls, leave us vulnerable to being “known”? Why does he feel compelled to hide himself from her? Why does he need to test her if they’ve already established their love is true? Why does he hold a marriage against her when she thought that he was DEAD? Was she supposed to live a celibate life mourning? WOULD HE? Does this mean that their love was not true, since true love is unselfish and wishes only happiness for the other?

She ought to be pissed at him for tricking her.

The book the grandpa is holding look mouldering and nineteenth century, but the novel was written in 1973. This may indicate the timelessness of the story. Or that a common paperback would have broken the mood. OR – more likely, this is a nod to S. Morgenstern – the fictional original author that Goldman invented. Goldman claimed to have pulled the best parts from Morgenstern’s classic tale, which is similar to what occurs with the back and forth between the boy and the grandfather. So perhaps the book is the original S. Morgenstern, and the man is acting as Goldman himself, pulling out the best parts for his grandson.

For further thinking:

  • Inigo is the real hero, following a hero’s quest.
  • Revenge v. vengeance.
  • Casual treatment of resurrection

Favorite Quote: “You’re trying to kidnap what I’ve rightfully stolen.”  – Vizzini (perspective of purpose)

What did YOU think of the topics we discussed? We’d love to hear from you!

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