Inconceivable! The Catholic Twists of ‘The Princess Bride’

Ask me what my favorite movie is, and I will answer without hesitation: “The Princess Bride.” For those of you who have never had the pleasure of watching this cult-classic, it’s about the romance between Westley and Buttercup, whose relationship is threatened when an evil prince named Humperdinck kidnaps Buttercup to become his wife. Westley subsequently embarks on a journey to rescue Buttercup with the help of a swashbuckling, revenge-seeking Spaniard named Inigo Montoya and a brawny giant named Fezzik.

The first time I watched the film was upon my brother’s recommendation as a teenager in high school. The humorous interactions and exploits of Inigo and Fezzik had me in peals of laughter, and the unwavering loyalty between Buttercup and Westley warmed my heart.

Another aspect of the film that carries particular interest to me is that – for a nonreligious film – it has distinctly Catholic themes. True, “The Princess Bride” may not be “The Chronicles of Narnia,” but here are a few of its spiritual themes and Catholic parallels.

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True love

One of the most obvious of these themes is the parallel between the hero Westley and Jesus Christ. The movie pretty much sets Westley, played by British actor Cary Elwes (himself a Catholic), up as a Christlike figure from the very beginning through his unconditional love for Buttercup. Shortly after we meet Westley, he leaves to seek his fortune overseas because he has no money for marriage. As he says goodbye to Buttercup, she expresses her palpable fear that something could happen to him while he is away, and that she may never see him again. To this, Westley responds: “Hear this now: I will always come for you.” Jesus promises the same to each one of us. In moments of hopelessness or darkness, Jesus comes to our aid, filling our brokenness with consolation, peace, hope, and love. And just like Christ, Westley does come back for Buttercup, fulfilling the promise he had made to her.

Suffering for love

Westley and Christ also share similar experiences in hardship and suffering because of love. When Buttercup is kidnapped, Westley chases after her and endures sword fights, fist fights, the terrors of the Fire Swamp, and an attack from a ROUS (Rodent of Unusual Size) in the process. He’s also taken into custody by Prince Humperdinck, who tortures him so badly that it causes him to scream so loudly in agony that Inigo and Fezzik can hear him, prompting Inigo to remark: “That is the sound of ultimate suffering.” You can draw similarities here to Christ’s suffering—Judas’s betrayal, his own disciples abandoning him, the public mockery and ridicule during his trial, and physical injury from being whipped, beaten, and crucified. In his Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris,” Saint Pope John Paul II (who Cary Elwes portrayed in a 2005 TV miniseries) taught us that suffering gives meaning to love. Through Christ, our suffering becomes his suffering, which then subsequently becomes an expression of redeeming love.

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(Mostly) death and resurrection

It’s also worth mentioning that both Westley and Christ die and are resurrected for the same reason: redeeming love. In Ephesians 5:25-26, Saint Paul teaches that Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her so that he might sanctify her. That very same love is what raises Christ from the dead in dramatic fashion after lying in the tomb for three days. In the film, Westley is left (mostly) dead for the whole day after Prince Humperdinck tortures him. However, Westley and Buttercup’s love, as well as Westley’s desire to stop Prince Humperdinck, earn him the favor of a man named Miracle Max who creates a miracle pill for Westley that revives him almost instantly. Thus, Westley’s love for Buttercup not only saves Buttercup at the end of the film, but it also saves Westley. Just as love raised Christ from the dead, Westley is revived thanks to the noble cause of true love.

“The Princess Bride” is a fantastic film, and it has many elements that make it a delight to watch. For some, it is the memorable lines (“As you wish!”), the romance, the humor, or the action. But if there’s one thing that I love most, it’s the film’s surprisingly Christian teaching of how true love never fails.

Christian-Catholic connections can be found in the most unexpected places, and “The Princess Bride” is no exception.

Inconceivable? I think not.