Among the many, many worthwhile films that do not pass the BECHDEL TEST lies the much beloved THE PRINCESS BRIDE. Adapted from the fabulous novel by William Goldman who likewise penned the screenplay, this is another film that does not, to me, feel like it lacks from an absence of women engaging in non-male-related subject matter—at least not at first glance. After all, it’s an homage to the boys’ adventure tale.
Now, true, Goldman, or director Rob Reiner, might have chosen to skirt convention and cast women in the unlikely roles of Inigo Montoya, Fezzik and/or Vezzini. But then we would have missed out on the magical performances of Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant and Wallace Shawn. No, I contend that both Reiner and Goldman made excellent casting choices across the board.
Nevertheless, in questioning whether or not there was any possible way this film might have, even if only by a smidgeon, passed the Bechdel Test, I did indeed find a missed opportunity that could have made a moment of humor considerably more poignant. So, before you cry “blasphemy!” — please just hear me out…
After Princess Buttercup is led to believe her beloved Westley is out of the picture and she’s condemned to be the consort of the heinous Prince Humperdinck, she pecks his father, the King, on the cheek. The King asks, “What was that for?” to which she responds, “Because you’ve always been so kind to me, and I won’t be seeing you again since I’m killing myself once we reach the honeymoon suite.” The King thus smiles and nods. “Won’t that be nice, eh?”
As it plays out, the moment, while humorous, merely suggests the King is a batty loon. But what if it had been The Queen with whom Buttercup shared this exchange? Suddenly, it would have taken on greater meaning, or at least posed some thoughtful questions:
Is the Queen likewise a loon, and has her position as the wife of the king led her to that fate, or should one take the moment sans irony? Perhaps The Queen might see the value in ending one’s life before the misery of what lays before her as a ruler’s consort. Maybe it’s a choice she wished she’d made for herself.
The answer need not be crystal clear, but by making this exchange between two women instead, there would be additional room for interpretation and subtext. In addition to the inherent humor of the ironic response, it could likewise prove a thoughtful moment of solidarity and a greater statement about what it means to be a “Princess Bride.” And with no disrespect to Willoughby Gray, who so delightfully plays The King, I daresay the story would have been a wee speck better.
So, while we look forward to the day when we render the Bechdel Test archaic and obsolete, there are instances where it can absolutely serve as a helpful tool. Let’s just not rely on it TOO heavily, eh?
(Incidentally, while I don’t take the film to task for failing the Bechdel Test, that is not to suggest there isn’t plenty of room for improvement. Princess Buttercup is not exactly a FEMINIST-FRIENDLY character as Blogger for Jules Does Films effectively outlines HERE.)
Next up from me: An Oscar-winning Bechdel loser…
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