by Rob DiCristino
Ed. note: We don't normally post new content on the weekends, but with today being Revenge Day for Junesploitation it seems like the perfect time to run this piece from our newest contributor, Rob DiCristino. Welcome, Rob!
In 1987, Rob Reiner and William Goldman gifted the cosmos with The Princess Bride, the affectionate parody of swashbuckling adventure stories that your parents never stop quoting. As Fred Savage would eventually learn, it’s got everything: drama, romance, comedy, thrills, and most importantly (for our purposes), revenge. Revenge is fun because it’s universal; an audience can always sympathize with someone who wants to get even. John Wick wants to avenge his dog. Chuck Bronson wants to avenge his family. Carrie wants to avenge those pigs who lost all that blood. It’s like the grand unifying narrative device. We’ve all been hurt and we’ve all been wronged and we’ve all wanted to feel the cathartic bliss of sweet retribution. This most certainly includes the weird and wonderful characters that populate The Princess Bride, each of whom fights to save their fairy tale world from the greed and cynicism that has corrupted it.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We were talking about revenge, and we might as well start with Inigo Montoya (Patinkin) and his hunt for Count Rugen, The Six-Fingered Man (Christopher Guest). Inigo’s defining characteristics are his grace and purity of heart, his single-minded devotion to righting the wrong that destroyed his childhood. Rugen, on the other hand, is a conniving and soulless bastard with an (impressively academic) obsession with pain and suffering. Killing Inigo’s father barely registered with Rugen; it was just another day, another step toward his Basement Murder Dungeon, but it’s haunted Inigo’s dreams ever since. It’s this contrast that speaks not only to the essential nature of heroes and villains but to Inigo’s larger role in eliminating this cruel and rotting infection from the fairy tale landscape. Note that both men are posturing: Rugen is a killer masquerading as a nobleman and Inigo is a hero masquerading as criminal. There’s a basic structural imbalance to their world that only a confrontation will set right. When that confrontation eventually comes, it punishes a brutal killer and sets Inigo on a path toward peace and closure, toward embracing the fairy tale hero he’d been inside all along.
And it does. The Man in Black is alive once more, and, spoilers, he’s been Westley all along. He and the boys have only minutes to stop Humperdinck from marrying Buttercup and driving her to suicide (which is likely to be pinned on the neighboring country of Guilder in order to start a war). After some hijinks involving a giant, a candle, and a holocaust cloak, Westley rushes to Buttercup’s bedside and challenges the prince to a Battle to the Pain. He promises to return the agony and torture that Humperdinck inflicted on him only hours before, but assures him that he will ultimately spare his life. We may wonder why Westley chooses this half measure (Fred Savage certainly does), but here’s where things get macro: Westley is forcing Humperdinck to wander powerlessly through the perfect fairy tale world he sought to corrupt. He’s commanding this Warthog-Faced Buffoon to live as a supplicant to those who understand the true nature of love and leadership (two institutions he mocked with his greed) and to hear it reverberate in his Perfect Ears forever. That Westley doesn’t carry out the plan is insignificant: Humperdinck is sufficiently shamed and immediately surrenders. This is the ultimate revenge, a thousand tiny cuts that never heal.