So I was watching The Princess Bride, and it got me thinking about storytelling and growing up…
This classic movie is more than 30 years old, and is one of those films that just about everyone has seen. I would bet, too, that the average number of viewings per individual is higher than average. Its “rewatchability” is through the roof, the type of movie that you “grow up watching” and still remains a delight even into adulthood. It’s remarkable that a movie from 1987 could make such a cultural marker just by arriving on a new streaming home (Disney+ .)
Something saddening I learned recently about this movie is that it isn’t universally beloved by a particular set of its viewers. What I’ve discovered both anecdotally and by Googling is that if you didn’t “grow up” on this film, but rather watched it for the first time as an adult, is doesn’t hit the same. The Princess Bride is not the first movie to experience this phenomenon. Sometimes movies you saw at an impressionable age, but upon further inspection are just not good. (A recent example for me – and please don’t kill me – is Space Jam.) Sometimes movies are just so “of their time” in either their technology, cultural references, or their values that watching them now feels silly or troublesome.
The Princess Bride, though, doesn’t fit either of those categories. Instead, within its own special world, it creates the perfect conditions to be the type of movie that feels timeless to some and blasé to others. It all comes down to a grandfather and a grandson.
In continuity with William Goldman’s novel, the fairy tale of “The Princess Bride” is a story within a story. The audience listens in on a story being read by a grandfather to a grandson who is sick at home. And it’s not just any book, it’s “…A special book. It was the book my father used to read to me when I was sick, and I used to read it to your father. And today, I’m gonna read it to you.” The story is the type that gets read to you when you’re young, and becomes significant in a way that makes you want to pass it on. There is a give-and-take along the way – the grandson is reluctant and recoils at certain things; he is too young for some parts, and maybe too old for others, but ultimately he is won over.
It makes you wonder if the grandfather had waited any longer to read it to him, would he be like the people who watched this movie too late? Is there a window in our childhood when we are more susceptible to wonder? I don’t wish to over-exaggerate this point, but I do believe there really is something special about being introduced to great stories as a kid and being able to return to them later; to mine them for new depth, joy, and truth, and then share them with others who haven’t experienced them yet.
I’m thinking about this a lot because I’m a new father. Watching The Princess Bride made me think about how I want my son to be introduced to scripture. It’s a tough challenge, because there is so much in there that will not be comprehensible, or appropriate, or even healthy for him at different stages. I could write a whole book about Bible stories I learned as a kid that were not healthy for my theological development. (Looking at you, Noah!) With all that said, I want to make sure that my son has a particular kind of relationship with the Story the way I did, even if the way I think of that story is so different now. I want it to capture his imagination and fill him with wonder. I’m so grateful to be part of a worshipping community that uses Godly Play as a curriculum – it’s designed to welcome kids into various stories in the Bible using their own sense of wonder and creative response.
I hope my son experiences Scripture like I experienced The Princess Bride: early, often, and in a way that allows him to appreciate it and its impact on his life later on. The thought is overwhelming, maybe even “inconceivable”, because a Bible can be a weapon in so many hands, especially unguided ones. But all the same, I want him to hear it, see it, touch it, experience it, and bring himself to it like the grandson did to the fairy tale. Later on, when it’s time to wrestle with it and become a part of that Story, it will in some way already be a part of him.
Theophany’s mission to bring God to light in film has another branch: a YouTube channel of video essays. Check them out, and don’t forget to like and subscribe while you’re there.