“As you wish,” establishes so much of what The Princess Bride is to people, what it means, and why it still works now, 30 years after it first came out. It’s in the story from the very beginning as the words the farm boy, Westley, utters to Buttercup whenever she asks him to do something, which she does a lot, once she realizes what it means.
“Farm Boy, fetch this, and Farm Boy deliver that,” to which Westley replies every time, “As you wish.” It says something about the formality of the dialogue. In fact, in an inside conversation Cary Elwes, who plays Westley, had with director Rob Reiner on the night before they started filming, Rob says, “The important thing to remember … is that even though I want you guys to have fun, I don’t want you to play it for the laughs, you know what I mean?”
“Yeah,” says Cary. “You want us to play it straight.”
“Exactly. Because Bill [Goldman’s] writing is so brilliant you don’t have to tip anything. The words alone will make people laugh. It’s all right there on the page.” Which is exactly what they all do, and what makes the movie work so well. The actors are always serious while the lines they deliver are at times hilarious. If they tip anything, it’s to let slip just a little peek at one of the many cards they hold to their chests.
So “as you wish,” accomplishes that balance, and if you look at Wesley’s face as he says it, and Buttercup’s face, and how she looks at him when he says it, they both soon realize it means much more. Soon she is asking him to fetch her a pitcher that’s 10 feet away, just so she can adore watching him when he says, “As you wish,” better known as “I love you,” which, as the narrator, and as our board member, John Styll, pointed out in his comment yesterday, that’s what “As you wish” really means, and why Buttercup wants to hear it over and over again.
And finally, as my wife pointed out, “As you wish” is much more than a statement of someone’s desire to serve another. It’s much more encompassing than that. It’s a statement of honor, of cherishing, of commitment — of saying, “I’m yours, and everything I have is yours. I am totally attentive to you.” It’s not as I wish, but as you wish. That means I have to find out what that is. It means there is someone in my life who is more important than me. The slightest narcissism goes out the window.
Something struck me for the first time at the very end of this week’s second viewing. As the book’s author (through the grandfather) confirms early in the film, when Westley says “as you wish” to Buttercup he is really saying “I love you.”
In the “story within the story,” the grandson (the Fred Savage character) is gradually warmed up and eventually won over to the Princess Bride story by the loving patience of his grandfather.
When the grandfather finished reading the book, the grandson tells him that — if he wants to — he could come over “tomorrow” and read the book again. The grandfather replies…. “as you wish.”
Maybe being a grandfather caused me to understand the meaning of that in a new way. — John Styll