OK I know this is facile and a little silly maybe, but House of Cards starts Friday and when The Princess Bride theme slid onto my Spotify feed last week, I remembered that Robin Wright, (Princess Buttercup!) is now the notorious Claire Underwood: monstrous friend, cold manipulator and, of course, ruthless First Lady.
Art imitates life, right? This is a great reflection – hugely distorted and grotesque though it is, of what has happened to so many of us — women and men –particularly but not only in public life.
We walk such thin lines most of the time. We flee innocence and dependence in pursuit of ourselves. We watch what appears to be the slow crumbling of every trusted institution. We struggle to learn how to be — and remain, moral, whole adults, able to stand alone, able to love and share, able to support, able to seek and accept help when we need it. And still, we feel – women and men and our country itself – that we’re losing what’s best in us.
Claire has jettisoned most of these qualities, if she ever had them. The conspiracy she shares with her husband has tethered her to his malignant pursuit of power at any cost. Their “arrangement” is beyond toxic; even a desired pregnancy must be sacrificed. What would Princess Buttercup – or even the Dread Pirate Roberts – think of these two?
The Princess Bride was released nearly thirty years ago, in September of 1987. It’s possible that was a nicer time. The 5 top grossing films that year were 1) 3 Men and a Baby (corny/cute), 2) Fatal Attraction (boiled bunnies – not so cute), 3) Beverly Hills Cop 2 (bloodshed and mayhem amid the jokes – also not so cute), 4) Good Morning Vietnam (Robin Williams, war, music, grief and rebelliousness celebrated in the film but not so popular today), and 5) Moonstruck (love, family, fairytale new beginnings.) Also among the top ten were the venal comedy The Secret of My Success (7), Lethal Weapon (see Beverly Hills Cop above) (9) and, perhaps a distant cousin to The Princess Bride, Dirty Dancing (class, romance, first love, politics, music) (10.) Cumulatively not as dark a worldview as in House of Cards, but not all sweet little stories, either. Even so, add Dirty Dancing to The Princess Bride and Moonstruck and 1987 offered us at least three fairy tales. No fairy tales dare show their faces at the Underwood caucus, do they?
Even more interesting are the films IMDB denizens took the time to vote for that year. 1) Full Metal Jacket (more war), 2) Predator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and, 3)The Princess Bride herself! Behind her, The Untouchables (Costner as Ness), Lethal Weapon (see high grossing: cop comedies), RoboCop (robot – um – cop), and – again – Dirty Dancing. Wrapping up the top ten, Spaceballs (funny space stuff), Wall Street (“Greed — is good.”) and The Running Man. (more Arnold.) Probably Oliver Stone’s Wall Street comes closest to our current Netflix White House.
Last year, when the Underwoods took over the presidency, the highest grossing films, not a fairy tale among them, included six sci-fi/fantasy films including three from Marvel, a witch, a Hobbit and some Transformers. The list concludes with two animations, an American sniper and one Dystopian teen rebellion.
Those garnering the most IMDB votes included eight sci-fi/fantasy films including five from Marvel, an end-of-the-world time/space and time travel adventure and two outer space monster invasions. That list concludes with a fancy old hotel, icky, nasty Gone Girl and … a different Dystopian teen rebellion.
Not altogether sure what all this means except that we’ve lost much of our 1987 capacity to cherish whimsy and gentle humor, Grand Budapest Hotel or not. OH and that we need all that escape these days — really badly. If I were to guess, I’d say what we’re escaping from is a world where, although certainly not in the White House, the Underwoods have taken over, for real.