Let’s get this out of the way first:
I love Princess Bride. “Stop that now, I mean it!” “Anybody want a peanut?” is something I say all the time. It’s a fricking quotable movie and there are so many fun things about it. When Inigo and Westley are sword fighting? The iocane powder? Andre the Giant? The Cliffs of Insanity? The shrieking eels? Come on, it’s fantastic.
I’ve watched it many times and enjoyed it many times but it always leaves me wistful. I always thought that wistfulness came from the love story. Dear Westley, who loved Buttercup even when she was being a snot, who went off to make his fortune so he could marry her and take care of her, who fought an ROUS and dove into lightning sand to save her …
And then I watched it again last night and I figured out the real reason for my wistfulness:
There are three women with speaking roles in that movie. Three. Two of them are old women (portrayed as ugly witches) and Buttercup. One of them isn’t even a real woman, only a product of Buttercup’s fevered nightmares.
So there was that.
But wait, it gets worse!
Buttercup has some fire to her at the beginning. Okay, she’s portrayed as a petty, snotty girl compared to the serenity of Westley’s, “As you wish.” This moves her to fall in love with him. After that, she’s all cow eyes and dreamy sighs. Not only that, but every time she turns around, she’s getting blamed for being faithless and unworthy of Westley’s love.
Westley goes off to make his fortune because he feels he can’t marry Buttercup without money. He doesn’t ask her what she wants. This is his decision and she plays no part in it. The most she’s supposed to do is sit at home and wait for him while he has his grand adventures.
She does. Then she gets word THAT HE’S DEAD.
What should a woman do who finds out that the guy she loves is dead? According to the Princess Bride, she’s supposed to waste away and die. If she doesn’t, then she never really loved her man and she’s unworthy of respect. (Did you miss that? I missed it in the first eleventy million times I watched it too. It was there, worming its way into my misinformed beliefs about love, but it was there.)
So you might be saying, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Aren’t you reading into it a little too much?”
Let’s look at the evidence:
- Buttercup vows she’ll wait for Westley.
- She hears that he’s dead.
- She tries to waste away but Prince Humperdink needs a
prizebride, and so Buttercup gets the nod.
- He’s plotting to kill her. (She’s an object to him.)
- He hires people to kidnap and kill her.
- Westley comes sailing in to save her. But why? Because he loves her?
- Well, sort of. He is angry with her BECAUSE SHE DIDN’T WAIT FOR HIS DEAD ASS TO COME BACK.
- She’s unfaithful, according to him. Unfaithful TO A DEAD MAN.
- She’s disloyal, according to him, because she’s marrying Prince Humperdink AGAINST HER WILL.
- When Prince Humperdink and his men surround her and Westley, she steps forward to save Westley’s life AND THE MOVIE MAKES HER SACRIFICE MEANINGLESS! (This really pissed me off.)
- Look at the stupid girl who thinks a prince will be honorable.
- Of COURSE the prince is going to kill Westley. Everyone knew it but dear, sweet, simple-minded Buttercup.
- The one point where she actually does something proactive and the movie immediately makes it worth nothing. Thanks.
- She has a dream in which an old woman calls her garbage and refuse. Why? Because she wanted to save the man she loved from being slaughtered. Yeah, that’s a great message.
- Near the end, she vows to kill herself. Finally, then, she has bought into the movie’s message that only her death can atone for her sin of living on after her true love died. (Remember, she thought he was dead. She wasn’t fricking psychic!)
And wait, there’s more!
At one point, the kid stops the story. (I’m going to paraphrase here, because I can’t remember the exact words, so sue me.) “Wait, Grandpa, that can’t be right! Buttercup can’t marry Prince Humperdink. That’s not fair! She’s supposed to marry Westley. (Wait for it.) AFTER EVERYTHING HE DID FOR HER, SHE SHOULD MARRY HIM.”
So, if a dude does a lot of hard work for someone, that means they owe him? This is basically that whole, “I bought you a lobster dinner so now you have to have sex with me” argument, wrapped up in a cute little bow.
Then there’s the whole, Buttercup is an object, thing.
- She has to wait for Westley to return from his big adventures to marry her.
- She has to marry Prince Humperdink.
- She gets kidnapped and hauled around like a sack of potatoes.
- She does jump into the water once to try to escape but Vizzini mocks her and derides her and she’s eventually pulled back into their ship.
- Westley catches up with her and berates her about not being faithful to him.
- He lifts her out of the way of the fire spurts. (Why can’t she fricking jump out of the way on her own?)
- She falls into the lightning sand and he has to save her.
- The ROUS attacks and all she does is scream. When she finally grabs a stick, it’s to poke at the ROUS, not beat it on the head. Why didn’t they let her grab his sword and stab the rat? Why didn’t they let her beat the fricking rat in the head? Because then Westley wouldn’t have looked so manly and heroic, I suppose. Bah.
- Her sacrifice is made meaningless.
- She’s lied to by the prince and accepts it (and is mocked for it. Because duh, who would think a man would be honorable? WTH?)
- She finally decides to kill herself. I mean, what kind of message is that? She is the stereotypical girl in a tower, waiting to be saved.
Would it have killed the story if she’d had agency? If she’d fought for herself? If she’d been respected one iota? (Respected as a person, not as a pretty object to be won.)
That’s where my wistfulness came from. Not from the love story (it wasn’t much of a love story, now that I think about it.) It came from the lack of respect for the main female character on there. Now, there are all sorts of women and I’m not saying Buttercup had to be a bad ass mofo. All I want is some respect for her as a human being and after watching the movie, I didn’t see that.
And that made me sad.