A Valentine’s Day special: The flawed romanticism of The Princess Bride

Happy Valentine’s Day, one and all!

There, that’s done. Now I can carry on a give you some miserly thoughts on the theme of love. Those of you who have met me may testify that I am about 5 foot 6 to 5 foot 8 in height. The observant among you will also note that my avatar is that of a mouse. Therefore, it may not be unfair to describe me as a Rodent Of Unusual Size (ROUS). We large rodents often feel prejudiced against, particularly when it comes to casting in films. There are just so few roles for us. While some may strive for equality in the realms of politics, and others have called for quotas of ROUS in company boardrooms, the cinema is what we really love.

A notable exception to this was the 1987 film, The Princess Bride, when Rodents Of Unusual Size were granted a small cameo role in a scene in the fire swamp. While some protested that it cast us in a villainous role, I was personally not offended by it. However, there is another aspect of that film which I wish to talk about today.

What was not so much offensive, as utterly baffling, was the opening story involving Buttercup and Westley. We are given a bizarre account whereby Westley declares his love by the simple use of a three word phrase, not one of which fitted into “I love you.” This declaration is less than straightforward, to say the least. I know men have difficulty finding the right words when it comes to expressions of love, affection or even modest fondness, but I really think he could have done better.

Then we have to ask ourselves, how did this arise? He may have seen Buttercup each day yet the two never held a proper conversation; unless you consider her ordering him around to be a conversation. Personally, I don’t regard that to be an adequate basis on which one might get to know the hopes & fears, likes & dislikes of another person. If anything, it shows Buttercup to be an extremely mild-mannered proto-dominatrix.

How can you claim to love someone if you don’t know them? Can “true love” be cultivated by the mere observation of how another person looks, moves and orders you about? Though some knowledge about a person may be gleaned from observation, a knowledge of the person requires an understanding that can only come by an intimate and personal conversation. Did Westley and Buttercup ever sit down at the kitchen table and talk about anything and everything over hot chocolate and toasted crumpets until the sun came up the next morning, not realising how much time had passed?

I’m honestly not sure which is more old-fashioned: this idea of love based on sight alone or my idea of actually getting to know someone a little before any such passions arise and take shape. There are times when a conversation may be held in complete silence, with a look of the eye, a tilt of the head or a half smile. Such an understanding, though, can only come once two people have already become accustomed to the minutiae of each other’s mannerisms, which takes quite some time to achieve; getting it wrong along the way can cause misunderstanding, laughter or tears. Only by getting it wrong do we eventually get to know one another well enough to get it right.

Well, I’ve wittered on for long and I’m sure you want me to stop.

As you wish.

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2 responses to “A Valentine’s Day special: The flawed romanticism of The Princess Bride

  1. Si, every now and again you write a real gem.

    This is one of them.

    Alex

  2. Pingback: Reflections on Lent | The Alethiophile