Why does the Princess Bride make me cry?

On the surface of things it’s a delightful tale, an arch romp through tropes of heroes and princesses. It’s arch and it’s a narrative within a narrative. It should enforce cynicism and relativism if nothing else. What is true? The grandson? Chicago? Columbo as a grandpa?

And yet here I am. When we lived in Berlin, me and my two year old, I belatedly realized that we had no Tv and that DVDs were coded to countries. All we had to watch were: Jumanji (caused trauma when fingers melted into sand and was never viewed again); 102 Dalmatians (thank you Glenn Close); and… Princess Bride (skipping the ROUS scene and the 50 years of life scene).

It got to the point where we watched the latter in Spanish just for variety. I don’t speak Spanish.

But to understand the tears one has to go farther back into my not very fascinating personal history.

I can’t remember when I first saw it. But I know that it was instantly a favorite.

I know it was all tangled up in the fact that I was also dating a Wes(t)ley, someone I was entirely in love with, someone who also loved this film. We were teenagers. We were in love. You know how it goes. Couples pick their movies. For my friends, it was “Say Anything” (which at least makes sense). For us, it was an arch tale of “medieval” love with a distinctly Jewish-American take. Huh.

SO ANYWAY.

fast-forward uh 37 years. Shush. I’m still 20.

And we are in a literal hellscape. There is smoke circling outside my house. There are 10 fires nearby — and yet we are safe relatively speaking. There is invisible disease and blatant politics and a non-zero chance of civil war. And no one, no one at all, seems pure or trustworthy or good. I am so so tired. I am a person who relentlessly believes I can affect change. And I am confronting the fact that. No. No I can’t. I am helpless.

Then these weirdos — from age 98 to 16, from the creeping fog of dementia to the poison pill of teenagehood — they gather together to read through a script.

And oh how they love each other.

Across time and internet and lag and freeze frames and random mute-ations.

They honor their dead and the living and try, through art and laughter, to make it OK again.

They try.

They reach out and act and pour it all out.

They laugh.

How can they laugh?

How can the memories of the dead invoke joy?

And I am undone.

My weakness revealed.

You tell me Norman Lear hasn’t seen some shit.

So the Princess Bride makes me cry.

The dialogue that is now part of my DNA.

The memories of love it evokes.

The present love these dear actors have for each other, for this fragile creation, for our broken little world.

There was a story shared at the end of it. A story about Wallace Shawn-easily the best script reader of them all in spite of dementia — being afraid of heights. And having to ride a fork lift up the Cliffs of Insanity. And being understandably worked up.

And Andre, a man tortured by pain, wrapping him in his arms and saying: I got you.

And it being OK.

Oh all the gods, can we please find a way to do this for each other?

I got you. I’m in pain too. But I got you.

It’s the only prayer I have left.

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Christina Smerick

Christina Smerick

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