Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Movie Gender Switch Project: The Princess Bride

YAM Magazine, an online publication about cultural media, came up with this interesting little prompt: The Movie Gender Switch Project. Simply take a movie with prominent male and female leads, swap their roles, and see how the story would play out as a result. I'm doing "The Princess Bride," which I guess becomes "The Prince Groom." Spoilers everywhere!

First off, the rules of the challenge specify changing the genders of the lead characters only, so the big stumbling block right off the bat is the original story would have Westley marrying Prince Humperdinck. I know society is more progressive in this area than it used to be, but this just isn't going to happen when you take into account that royal marriages are all about the procreation. However, Humperdinck could still appear to ally himself with Westley without the whole marriage thing, and then set him up to be killed off to start that war with Guilder.

Oh, I've got it. You can have the old king adopt Westley into the royal family as a prince for, let's say, saving his life. That keeps the title intact, puts the people on his side, and gives Humperdinck a reason to want to get rid of him. Of course he has to appear to play nice with Westley in order to respect his father's wishes, but truthfully he doesn't want any competition around even if he's next in line for the throne anyway. So Humperdinck has Westley kidnapped and has to make a big show of getting his new brother back. And you could switch out the wedding for a big coronation ceremony for the climax scenes.

On Buttercup's side of the equation, she probably wouldn't be going out into the world to make her fortune if Westley was a landowner with his own farm in the beginning. So she's traveling to visit relatives, her ship is boarded by the Dread Pirate Roberts, and she is presumed to have been killed. This gets a little tricky because Roberts is still a man, but Buttercup could feasibly find a way to disguise herself and replace him. There are always girls passing themselves off as boys in pirate stories, and of course there were real life women pirates. The disguise just wouldn't be as convincing to the audience, but we all knew that the Man in Black was really Westley from the beginning anyway, right?

So Buttercup follows the kidnappers, beats Inigo Montoya at swordfighting, Vizzini at the game of wits, and Fezzik - oh dear. Is it plausible for Buttercup to beat Fezzik at wrestling? Well, maybe it is. I mean, Westley was completely physically outmatched by Fezzik in the first place, and the tactics he used probably could be used by Buttercup effectively. Yeah, let's go with that. Buttercup beats Fezzik at wrestling, reunites with Westley, and they almost escape until Prince Humperdinck intervenes. Buttercup ends up with the albino and Count Rugen in the torture chamber, and Westley is back at the castle with time running out before he has to be... coronated. Oh, that doesn't sound right, does it?

What do we replace Buttercup's anxieties about getting married to Humperdinck with? A big part of her character arc was rejecting the prince and deciding not to go through with the wedding. No matter how you cut it, becoming royalty doesn't have the same amount of emotional heft as deciding whether or not to marry somebody. Well, we can turn a negative decision into a positive one. Westley can turn down the prince gig because he decides he wants to marry Buttercup, and he can't do that if he's royalty. And Humperdinck's plotting by that point would be too far along to allow Westley to decline the honor, so he tricks him into it. We can leave out the suicide business, I think.

Then the rest of the story plays out as usual. Storm the castle, rescue the new prince, Inigo Montoya gets that awesome revenge scene, and happy ending.

It's interesting how putting Buttercup into the typically male storyline, with the adventuring and the physical feats isn't nearly as hard as trying to work Westley into the typically female one, where the conflict is mostly about relationships and emotions. And it feels very strange to have Buttercup doing so much action-wise, while Westley doesn't get to do anything rougher than name-calling. The most affirmative thing he does is to save the king, which I invented to make the plot work. Buttercup was originally chosen by Humperdinck for being the fairest in the land.

Buttercup being an action heroine works pretty well, but I think some of the later scenes with Count Rugen in the torture chamber, and being dragged around as a corpse, end up with some additional naughty connotations that may raise some eyebrows. Miracle Max would likely be suspicious of Inigo and Fezzik for entirely different reasons and the tone of the comedy would be very different.

As for all the emphasis on true love, you end up with a very forceful Buttercup who may be coming on too strong, and a Westley who is very passive, and not too smart. More than anything else, I was surprised at how the characterizations that seemed so classical and sweet one way, play very, very differently when they're switched.

1 comment:

  1. That's a great switch around! I actually haven't watched The Princess Bride, but I guess one would have similar problems with other princesses movies, for example Sleeping Beauty (the Disney version). I wouldn't be able to picture the Prince prancing around singing with animals about meeting someone once upon a dream. Or would you?