The Princess Bride (film)

The Princess Bride (film) Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Repeated catchphrases (motif)

Part of what makes The Princess Bride so memorable and, indeed, so adaptable to modern internet meme culture, is the repeated use of certain characters' catchphrases. Vizzini, in his desire to appear smart, utilizes the word "Inconceivable!" at every given chance. Westley, ever-determined to show his love for Buttercup, is constantly telling her, "As you wish." And, of course, Inigo, through his obsession with avenging his father, has scripted and makes effective repeated use of the phrase, "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Intentionally interrupting one story with the other (motif)

As mentioned at many points in this guide, The Princess Bride aims for its audience not to take it too seriously. This is a difficult task given the sometimes depressing or scary moments present in such an epic tale. To counter any over-identification on the viewer's part, the film often takes us out of the moment through an interruption by the grandson of the grandfather in the framing story as a way of paralleling their experience with our own. When Buttercup is about to be eaten by a giant eel, when she dreams that she actually did marry Prince Humperdinck, or when we're about to get the sweet, satisfying final kiss from her and Westley, we are suddenly torn back into 1987, a harsh reminder that this is a story and nothing more, and that treating it as importantly as real life is fool-hardy and missing the point of an entertaining fictional tale.

Polite discourse during tense moments (motif)

Related to the above, the film aims to keep its more tense, violent moments palatable by having the characters engage in cordial chatter. This is true when Westley (disguised as the Man in Black) duels with Inigo, when he renders Fezzik unconscious in a fist fight, and when he tricks Vizzini into drinking poison. In other films with a different, darker story to tell, these scenes could have been made upsetting and tense. The filmmakers, however, chose to keep them light for the exact opposite goal, and so our characters chat as if discussing the weather as they attempt to subdue or even kill one another.

Westley's mask (symbol)

There are few examples of direct symbolism in The Princess Bride, as it takes a straight-forward, parodically superficial approach to storytelling, but one (albeit minor) example would be Westley's mask while he masquerades as the Dread Pirate Roberts. The mask represents not only his deceit in refusing to reveal who he really is, but more broadly the lie that the Dread Pirate Roberts is still at large and not off enjoying his retirement. When Buttercup pushes Westley down a hill and he reveals his identity to her with a shouted "as you wish!" his mask comes flying off, symbolizing the shedding of his ruse and his return to his original identity.

Vizzini as brains, Fezzik as brawn, and Inigo as skill (symbols)

The bandits who kidnap Buttercup symbolize a trifecta of obstacles for Westley to overcome and, as he does, a testament to his exceptionality as a hero. Inigo challenges him with great skill of swordsmanship, which Westley has also mastered and so is able to defeat him; Fezzik challenges him with brute strength, which, while Westley is not physically strong enough to stop, he nevertheless finds a way around; and finally, Vizzini puts his intellect to the test with their game of wits. Upon defeating him, Westley has passed the tests of skill, strength, and intelligence, proving himself as the perfect savior and the ideal love for the princess bride.