|At Oak Grove, we want to train students in biblical discernment in their lives. One of the practical ways we can do that is with media. When it comes to media, many people simply consume, unaware of the sub-messages being communicated, or they may decide to withhold from the “secular” realm altogether. I believe that there is a spectrum between secular and sacred, rather than separate black and white categories, which means that all media speaks to “supernatural” and our collective perspective of the human condition. In a sense, movies could be characterized as America’s storytellers. Not only do Hollywood films reflect certain commonly held attitudes and beliefs about what it means to be American, but they also portray contemporary trends, issues, and events, serving as records of the eras in which they were produced. Do we pay attention to what is communicated in media and the influence that it has on our lives?|
We want to create an environment where students will be trained to interact with media constructively and critically. Instead of running away – engaging it, while being careful to filter what needs to be filtered. As a Pastor, I cannot make a list of what is allowed and disallowed for students and have them honor it. As parents, we could make rules, but they may break them without understanding the why behind the rules. Instead, students need to learn how to make those boundaries themselves. If we do not model that for them at church, at home, and at youth group, how are they going to learn it? For this reason, we schedule nights of “film and theology” whereas a group, we will watch a movie, then spend 30 minutes after discussing the sub-messages found within. Conversations about media, consumption, holiness, and Christianity will be a continual thread through Oak Grove Student Ministry.
The Princess Bride (1987) – Here’s What You Need to Know
The Princess Bride is a classic. It’s quirky. It’s fun. It has “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” While home sick in bed, a young boy’s grandfather reads him the story of a farmboy-turned-pirate who encounters numerous obstacles, enemies and allies in his quest to be reunited with his true love. The grandfather reads the story of Westley and Buttercup to his grandson who is sick at home. Through it, the boy escapes to a place beyond his imagination, further than it might have gone if just stuck in his room alone playing videogames. How often do we too long to escape our sickness, pain, and everyday troubles to be swept away on adventures that we can only imagine?
We all want a world that isn’t broken – but as Westley reminds Buttercup, that’s not how life works. Life is pain, the world is broken. Buttercup believes she’s talking to the Dread Pirate Roberts, but Westley knows he’s there to save her. Even though life is pain, there is good to be found within it. And those good things are humor, adventure, and of course, love.
Often, we only see life through a glass dimly. If we are in a broken world where true perfection is unattainable, then we are only left to see shades of these good things. Everlasting love of Westley and Buttercup has a shelf life – they are mortal – and they will one day pass away. What is the good life? What does the “ever after” part after “happily ever after” mean? Sure, it’s up for interpretation – but the essence of it is hope. Hope for the truest love, one that cannot let us down, that will not pass away, and has no shelf life. We search for that ever after in our own adventures and fantasy stories, but if it is just that, we will end the story, close the book, and find ourselves still in the bedroom with a fever and a cold.
Hope is important. Westley dies multiple times, but he goes, always hopeful to return to Buttercup. Inigo hoped twenty years to avenge his father, knowing he might die. At the end of the film, he reveals that the hope fulfilling his conquest gave him purpose. Likewise, we must continue to hope. Adventures help us do that. Do we see our lives as an adventure on hope for reunification with our creator? All stories must end. There is pain in life. But we know the end of the story and it is with Christ.
The film begins with an idyllic location, a man, and his true love. Though she is abrasive, demanding, and cruel, Westley continues to love and serve her until her harsh calls of “farm boy” become a soft, loving “Westley.” In a sense, he loves an unlovable woman until she becomes beautiful.
The picture of God in Ezekiel 16 is of a lover who lavishes His bride until she is beautiful enough to be His wife. Despite her wallowing in blood, despite her brokenness, despite her death, He is willing to pour Himself into her.
It really draws a stark line between God’s design and our experience in this broken world. We expect love to come as a result of beauty, but God switches the cause and effect: we are beautiful because He loves us. Under His loving care, our focus changes from ourselves to Him; and through that, we are made beautiful.
A perfect world? A perfect world is no more likely at the beginning of a fantasy story than it is in reality. Westley is captured, and soon, Buttercup gives in to unfaithfulness because of fear. Like Buttercup, God’s people gave into their fear and were bitterly wounded as a result. God’s bride gives up her true love for a lesser love, settling for someone who will not and cannot satisfy her, because she is afraid that He is not enough. The entirety of the Old Testament in the Bible is an account of what happens when His bride does not count God as enough: as the grandfather says, emptiness consumed her.
This is no accident or oversight. God made us to desire Him, and nothing else can hold water. Like Buttercup’s daily ride, the things we do only fill that emptiness temporarily. It’s the curse of life in this fallen world.
The Pursuer. Westley loves Buttercup too much to let her go, though, and God is far more faithful even than that. Despite our rejection, He pursues us! (Ezekiel 16:59, Jeremiah 31:3) God loves us too much to leave us alone.
Not that we make it easy for Him. Like a skilled Spaniard, we try to do things to earn entry into His kingdom by our own power; like a strong giant, we try to avoid sin by sheer force of will; like a smart Sicilian, we think up silly arguments, reasons and loopholes why we don’t need him. Our pride is easily swept away by the love of the Father, and He defeats each of us. Our lover will and does capture us.
No matter what we do, He will pursue us. In the film, Buttercup turns away from Westley three times, yet he still pursues her unto his own death. And despite our many rejections of Him, our Lord still pursues, conquers, and dies for us. And He rises again, saving us from the unfulfilling life we chose and destroying the warthog-faced buffoon of sin that has so dominated our life.
Who or what is the “Humperdinck” that you have given your life to? Do you realize that it can’t satisfy? Do you realize that, if you are in Christ, sin is utterly powerless over you? Do you see Christ risen – not weak and recovering from an untimely death, but in power and victory as the conquering King?
You see, sin is no brave conqueror. It is a cowardly, weak usurper who rules only by tyranny and trickery. The Great Tracker is not Prince Humperdinck, but the man who captured the princess—her lover.
God is mentioned occasionally, as a being that exists and has power over their world, but not necessarily one that demands their worship.
When Inigo expresses his discomfort at having to kill Buttercup, Vizzini tells him that God kills girls, so they shouldn’t feel guilty. In a dream in which Buttercup and Humperdink are married, Humperdink calls their child a gift from God.
While preparing to torture Westley on the machine, Count Rugen says the Serpent in the Garden of Eden was the embodiment of pain. When Humperdink suggests that Westley might not return, Buttercup responds by saying she believes he’ll return as surely as she believes in love and believes in God.
While waiting for Westley to save her from marrying Humperdink, Buttercup kneels at her bed and thinks of him, as if praying to Westley.
Count Rugen is convinced that the opposite of death is pain, rather than life. Several passages are influenced by Jewish culture, particularly in the interactions with Miracle Max and his wife. When Miracle Max’s spell wears off and Westley starts dying again, he prays to a being he calls the Lord of Permanent Affection to stay alive.
The following words appear in the film: h—, d–n, b–ch, and s—. Miracle Max calls Inigo a spick, which is a derogatory term for a Spaniard. God’s name and Christ’s name are used in vain a few times.
Vizzini and Westley both slap Buttercup. When Buttercup insults Humperdink, he pulls her by the hair from the room. Buttercup is knocked out after she tries to escape so they can make better time to the cliffs of insanity.
When Fezzik is first learning to fight, he accidentally breaks his father’s jaw. In Inigo’s first duel with Count Rugen, the count slashes Inigo’s face, leaving him permanently scarred. In their final duel, Inigo returns the favor, and also threatens to cut out Count Rugen’s heart. Other fights occur throughout the book. Humperdink kills several animals.
The prince and the count torture Westley, such as pouring boiling oil on his hands and putting him in a machine that sucks the life out of him.
Westley and Buttercup’s first kiss is not described, but the reader is told it was the best kiss of all time.
Questions to ask your student after the event:
Who has God created you to be?
What do you feel your purpose in life is?
What is the good life?
What are you pursuing?
Which character do you identify most with?
After Ingio avenges his father, his purpose in life is suddenly empty. What have you set your goals on in life?
What happens after you achieve it?
Westley is notable for his ceaseless and unconditional love for Buttercup. What is it about an unconditional love is so attractive to us?
I am super excited about this event. Please pray that God would work through it as a tool in the discipleship of our students. If you have concerns or questions, please feel free to reach out to me via email or my cell.