Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Princess Bride

My coworker stationed across from me had an amusing/annoying ritual of saying random words with a fake speech impediment throughout the day. She joked that it was a coping mechanism of making fun of herself in order to get over her own traumatizing past of having to wear a speech-crippling retainer. Usually it would just be any random long “s” word that she found funny to say with a lisping “th” instead. But other times, again for no apparent reason, she would go into quoting the clergyman character from The Princess Bride, who memorably could not pronounce the letter “r.”

Again, these were not conversations. She would just utter things randomly without any provocation. Headphones on, I made every effort to appear as though I was paying attention to my work and not to her. Yet the less distracted I made myself appear, the more she would try to directly distract me, waving her hand and yelling "Hey!" to get my attention, then saying, "You get it, right?" as if there were anything really to get from such surface-level humor as pronouncing words incorrectly. And so, just to make sure that I was on the same page with the Princess Bride quotes (as if my following along with her running gags was somehow of more importance than either of us getting any work done), she asked me whether I was familiar with the movie.

Indeed, I had seen the movie many times as a child and had once counted it among my favorites. It has probably been close to twenty years since I last saw it, however, and I don't remember too much from it.

What most struck me as a child (and what I most remember now) were the darker moments of the Cary Elwes character being tortured, apparently to death, and of the Robin Wright character, believing her love and all hope lost to her, resolving upon suicide. These moments of despair made it all the more blissful, of course, when the heroes were reunited, and love and goodness prevailed. And yet, I'm not sure whether it was that final promised hopefulness or rather the despair itself that so drew my young self. But even at that age, I could recognize a thematic trend in the material that most consistently engaged my attention.

There was that similar moment, previously discussed, in Disney's Robin Hood, for example, when Robin Hood appeared dead, and these anthropomorphic cartoon animal characters were so masterfully drawn and animated that one could precisely discern, just from their exaggerated facial expressions, the very moment of their hearts breaking at the realization of the loss of their leader and dear friend. No matter how many times I watched these movies, no matter that I knew that of course there would be a happy ending, nevertheless these scenes never lost any of their emotional power over me as a child.

Perhaps it was because, for me, it was in those moments of witnessing the despair of those left behind that I understood best and felt most acutely the intensity of their love for the one they believed lost to them, as though pain and grief over the dead were just more “real” to me than romance and warmth between the living. Perhaps this reflected a secret wish that, like Tom Sawyer, I could somehow attend my own funeral, and only then determine how people truly felt about me. Or perhaps there was a sadomasochistic streak in me that demanded to see people in pain, because grief was the only emotional high that could move me one way or another . . . .  Hrm, no, let's go with the first theory.

1 comment:

Czardoz said...

There's actually quite an art to "such surface-level humor as pronouncing words incorrectly." Done properly, with expert delivery and an understanding of the zeitgeist, and you get long-standing catchwords like "sarsage" and "movie" pronounced with a long "O" (MOE-vie) which threaten to unseat the actual words ("sausage" and "movie") in the common lexicon. Done poorly, and you get such banalities as "Thufferin' thuccotash" (Sylvester the Cat), or worse, abominations like "Herro brack man" for "Hello black man." Needless to say, that last quip is wrong on multiple levels.