I love The Princess Bride. It’s been my favourite movie almost as long as I can remember. It was the first DVD I ever bought. Amanda’s nursery has a huge Princess Bride poster on the wall that I’ve carted around with me from dwelling to dwelling since my first year of undergrad. My copy of the novel is falling to pieces I’ve read it so many times. And, like everyone else in my undergraduate fencing club (yes, I am a nerd, and proud of it) I took up the sport inspired by the epic duel between the Man in Black and Inigo Montoya.
Why do I love The Princess Bride so much? Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
One of my most vivid early childhood memories is watching The Princess Bride on VHS at the home of some family friends, circa (I guess) 1987/8. I would have been 6 or 7. I so clearly remember being captivated and terrorized in turn by the film. I kept watching it but (anxious child that I was), I was terrified by the ROUSs, the creepiness of the 6-fingered man, and, especially, the climactic scene when Andre the Giant comes out in flame impersonating the Dread Pirate Roberts. Years later, early 90s perhaps, I caught half the movie on TV and have been obsessed ever since.
So, you can imagine how delighted I was when Leeman gave me Carey Elwes’s memoir on the making of the film, and it was every bit as entertaining as I thought it would be! There’s something very satisfying about learning everyone involved in making such a special project feels genuine love for said project, even when it seems said project has arguably overshadowed the rest of their careers.
While stories of Cary Elwes attempting to hide a broken toe from Rob Reiner or Billy Crystal’s amazing improvisations on set made for a compelling read, what most intrigued me about Elwes’s retrospective was the discussion about how hard it was to sell the concept of The Princess Bride to a studio in the first place and, later on, the hard time producers had marketing the film. What do you do with a genre-bending film that’s a little bit comedy, a little bit romance, a little bit action/adventure … even a dabble into horror? Studio marketers like clear-cut stories that lend themselves well to a 30-second TV promo. Apparently the first posters released for the film avoided genre elements completely and showed only an image of the grandfather and grandson from the ancillary framing story. Curious indeed. So no one went to see the film and The Princess Bride was destined to fall by the wayside of cinema history–until the home video market picked it up. Suddenly, people watched it … and shared it with their friends … and gave it as gifts to unsuspecting family members. And so the little film that could rose to the cult status it has today–twenty-five years later.
It’s an intriguing bit of film history, and it makes me think about how prone we are as part of our human nature to categorize and demarcate everything (and everyone). We like to put people in boxes, marked off with clear labels. We want to be able to assess things quickly. Celebrities and politicians fall from grace the moment they make a “gaffe.” I feel this is particularly insidious in the church. We are quick to question the “brand” an individual or a community belongs to. Are you suitably conservative/progressive? Are you too evangelical or not evangelical enough? Do you conform the party line on x/y/z issue?
Both inside the Church and more broadly in our culture, it is so much easier to identify those we meet by the labels they claim for themselves (or the labels we assign to them) than it is to actually take the time to get to know them in all their complexities and contradictions. And, yet, when we live in a world of clearly drawn boundaries and easily affixed labels, we lose something of the dynamism and richness the diversity of individuals the world has to offer us. More importantly, we lose the presence of a variety of voices in our day to day lives that might not always reflect our own, but who challenge us to become more nuanced, rich, complicated, and interesting people ourselves.
What a boring movie The Princess Bride might have been it it had conformed to the guidelines of just one genre. What boring lives we lead when we only play it safe and know people by their labels and not by all the quirks and foibles that make them tick.