Life Through the Lens: The classic story of twue wuv turns 30

“This is true love — you think this happens every day?”


Love is hard work. It is messy. It is unpredictable. Sometimes … love down-right stinks.

When I met my wife in college, I fought the feeling of love. It scared me too much. I felt too young to give up control. I felt too inexperienced to give away my heart. The thoughts were predictable and juvenile: What if it doesn’t work out? What if I change my mind? What if she gets sick of me? What if she uncovers the parts of me I want hidden?

I ran from love. I acted aloof, but I knew what I was doing. Although I cared for her so much, I put her through pain and uncertainty anyway. Instead of packing her emotions and moving on, she held on to love. Spoiler alert: we are married so … it worked. Through the years of our “courtship,” we each had doubts and moments of distraction; undoubtedly, when one struggled, the other held tight. That right there — that is true love. When one struggles, the other holds tight.

The movie opens with a grandson, sick and stuck in bed. His concerned grandfather enters with a magic-cure for sickness: his favorite fairytale. It was used on him as a child and remains just as magical decades later. The grandson remains skeptical of the cure-all…it is a book, after all. What power can a dumb book possess?

The fairytale opens with a beautiful, young girl named Buttercup (Robin Wright) who loves to playfully torture the handsome farmboy Westley (Cary Elwes). Her glances turn to stares turn to longing as love begins to form between the two. True love is impossible, though, for Westley is poor and unestablished. In an attempt to earn the love that he already has, he sails away to build a life for Buttercup … but news travels that he has been captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts and killed. Buttercup is distraught, vowing never to love again.

It isn’t that easy for Buttercup, however, because the prince of the land has chosen her for his wife. It will be loveless, but she can’t say no. Before the wedding day can happen, she is kidnapped to use as bait for a war. Her future-prince-husband has plans for her — and they aren’t marital plans — they are martial plans. Instead of becoming a footnote in history, a masked man saves her from certain-death. It is the Dread Pirate Roberts himself! The rogue that killed her love! Is it just me or does he look a lot like Westley?

Shakespeare says it best: “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Although reunited, troubles persist and difficulties arise. Buttercup is re-captured, Westley is tortured, and it takes an unlikely pair of misfits to assist in the re-reunion. Magic. Resurrection. Giants. ROUSes. You name it — this movie has it!

I love and treasure the message that true love is real — it is valuable — it is worthwhile — but it is difficult! Buttercup could have loved the prince; the world would tell her “go for it!” The prince was: rich, handsome, powerful, skilled — he was a real catch. She could get used to his creepiness and deceitfulness. She could grow to love his curiosity of pain and torture. What fun quirks! Instead, Buttercup loved with her heart — loved her disappeared (possibly deceased) lover no matter the cost. She committed her heart to the one of her choosing and refused to remove it. It is too easy to move on — true love comes from the holding on.

Let this quote sink in for a second: “You only get to keep what you refuse to let go of” (Jonathan Safran Foer in his book Here I Am). I can see this quote in each scene of The Princess Bride. No matter the obstacle, you must hold tightly to what you love. The world has a natural tendency to separate, to drive a wedge between, to distance. Westley would only hold tighter to his love. Other people may try and come between, to spoil, to break. Buttercup would only hold tighter to her love. If you only get to keep what you refuse to let go of…let that be an encouragement to hold tighter to what matters.

In my relationship with my wife, I know I must hold tight or else it will fade. I know I must refuse to let go. No matter how the world attacks — no matter the difficulty — no matter the complications — I will never let go of what I love. I will continue to wrestle; I will continue to fight; I will continue to struggle. I will hold tight.

I believe the world may need to hear this distinction, as well: true love is not a matter of situation or feelings. Buttercup did not love Westley because he was perfect. Westley did not love Buttercup only when she did things flawlessly. They each saw the rough-spots — they each experienced the disappointments associated with relationships. True love is a decision. True love is a commitment. Neither Westley nor Buttercup could walk away once it was granted.

This movie does so many things well. It is fantasy and whimsy but at the exact right amount. It uses fairytale elements with precision and perfection. It is funny and sarcastic in flawless satirical-fashion — so many of the lines are delivered with magical comedic-timing. Its action is exciting and polished. Its adventure is pulsing and imaginative. It accomplishes all of this in just 98 minutes!

Cary Elwes is charming and hilarious. Wallace Shawn (as Vizzini) is beyond funny — he seems to have been born for this movie. His voice and mannerisms leave me laughing at each line. Andre the Giant (as Fezzik) was warm and natural, propelling his minor character into the spotlight with ease. Billy Crystal (as Miracle Max) was a scene-stealer. Each character, even if only for a single-line, was well-placed and well-cast.

I think most of the praise belongs to the writer William Goldman (who also wrote the book). In both the book and the screenplay, Goldman has such allure and quirkiness. He writes jokes as if they are his native tongue. His book contains so many layers of interest and story — he creates a truly unique tale. When writing the script, he does a masterful job of keeping and transferring as much of the “magic” as possible.

Director Rob Reiner deserves some kudos, as well. He creates a world of enchantment and surrealism. It is both believable and mystical. I am a sucker for creating the world instead of CGIing the world. I love and miss this detailed and painstaking form of storytelling.

It is a true-testament to a film: after 30 years, it is just as relatable and amusing as when it first hit the big-screen. Find it. Watch it.


REPORT CARD: The Princess Bride

Grade: A Disliking this movie would be inconceivable