For personal reasons, I sought this film out for a third viewing. The first time I ever saw it, I watched it with my family and we were all completely unimpressed, especially given the hype. Romances were by far the choice genre in our household, and since the character development and the depth of interaction within this particular romance were unsatisfactory, so was the whole film. The second time, I was halfway through college and watching with friends one summer, and conceded that it was more entertaining when watched on a social rather than cinephilic basis (the same thought I had about Moulin Rouge). But that was all; I couldn’t empathize when people quoted obsessively from the script.
I liked it a lot more this third time, responding with not just tears but cathartic sobbing at the end. What had I picked up that I hadn’t noticed before? Firstly, I’ve begun to think about how to raise children, and the film’s idea of giving young children (i.e. the Fred Savage character) this myth of true love as the highest value in life surprised me with its appeal. It seems like such an unlikely value to advertise compared to all the ennobling motives out there: God, country, virtue, public service, helping the unfortunate, science, art…against all this, what do two little people matter? “A hill of beans,” right? Yet the movie makes a postulate out of true love, as shown by all the characters verbally celebrating it no matter how mean or out-of-touch they are, and the concept of shaping innocent minds in this mold is oddly beautiful and illuminating. Better yet, the movie allows you to become one of those innocents yourself while you’re watching it.
Secondly, I’d always resented Buttercup for her passivity while Westley does all the work (though I guess you can’t fight if you insist on wearing an impractical dress instead of pants), but tonight I noticed something to credit her with: while Westley is running around with incredible strength and dexterity, she is standing still with incredible faith. This is a word or virtue I’ve never much thought about before, but now I see that Buttercup enacts Milton’s words, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” It takes more than desire and action to see these lovers safely through; it takes belief that it will all work, and in fact something stronger than the mere word belief implies. When Westley promises “I will come for you,” he is not just stating his desire and then later deciding that he will do as he said. He is, in speaking that promise, in fact creating the future, and Buttercup’s faith creates it along with him. From this we learn a lesson in shaping our own destinies.