The Princess Bride: A Mental Health Perspective

The Princess Bride is a classic tale involving wonderful characters, who manifest signs of mental illness. They struggle with these illnesses in their conquests. Westley is the main antagonist, who battles against several characters such as Vizzini, Fezzik, and Inigo on his way toward returning to his love Buttercup. Buttercup was stolen by Vizzini as a political prisoner. Later Westley becomes partner with Fezzik and Inigo after killing Vizzini, and together they take on the wicked Prince Humperdinck who had stolen Buttercup. They storm Humperdinck’s castle and rescue the princess. We will consider who the mental status of the key characters of this story played into their roles of Westley’s adventure, considering the role of obsessive-compulsive disorder, conduct disorder, and other illnesses.

Borderline Personality, Narcissistic Personality, and Conduct Disorders

Vizzini is obsessed with himself; he shows off and prides himself as being a greater thinker than the classical philosophers of Greece. He has what we would call narcissistic personality disorder. Another character with narcissistic personality disorder is Prince Humperdinck. Prince Humperdinck appears to have a conduct disorder and borderline personality disorder as well. Conduct disorder involves violating common social norms and infringing upon the rights of others (Mpofu & Crystal, 2001), which makes Humperdinck and Vizzini good candidates for it. When around his constituents Humperdinck likes to appear nice, but in private, his political machinations are conniving, and he is willing to murder and torture Westley to get to Buttercup to use her as a political tool to gain more power, only to ultimately murder Buttercup. It’s one thing to kill someone, but to torture them is even more unnatural and indicates mental illness like conduct disorder. Humperdinck lies to Buttercup about Westley being dead, which is another manifestation of conduct disorder. Buttercup shows some signs of borderline personality disorder in her fear of being left alone, and her fear of being abandoned.

Individuals suffering from borderline personality therapy would benefit from a prescription of mood stabilizers, and from cognitive behavioral therapy with a licensed therapist. For conduct disorder, a client may receive behavioral therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (Mpofu & Crystal, 2001). Treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy needs to be tailored to the specific age of the client receiving the therapy (Mpofu & Crystal, 2001). An SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) may be considered for someone with conduct disorder.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Wesley and Buttercup manifest symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. They do unnational things based on an obsession. Wesley is outnumbered many times but persists in rescuing the woman he had not seen in many years. Buttercup believes Wesley will come for her even though she has been told that he died. Complicated grieving is when someone believes a dead person is still alive or can’t cope with their life without the dead person even after losing them long ago. Buttercup tries to take her life. She had suicidal ideations and plans, she secretly placed a dagger in her possession because she had concrete plans of how to take her life. She told others about her suicidality, but they ignored her instead of getting her the help she needed, which is known as neglect.

These characters suffering for forms of OCD would do well to receive cognitive behavioral therapy from a licensed therapist. Someone with OCD could also benefit from an SSRI depending on where they fall in the Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale, including factors of tolerability and acceptability (ZHOU et al., 2019). The movie does not show various aspects of OCD such as the severe form of doing something repeatedly like touching doorknobs 3 times or other such oddities, but they do show that the characters were so set on their way of how things should go that they focused all their attention on it, to the peril of other opportunities in their lives.

Indigo also manifests traits of obsessive-compulsive disorder in his life long ambition to kill the person who murdered his father. This is certainly complicated grieving – it was all he had plans to do with his life, to get revenge. Once he completed his revenge, he didn’t know what to do with himself. He was then peer pressured to enter piracy as there was a void in his life which was formerly filled by vengeance. Indigo must find a new personality as he moves on to a new life stage as he has finally overcome the loss of his father. He didn’t overcome that loss in a healthy way since he had to kill someone, but one could argue that the police didn’t do their job to prosecute the man who killed his father, and they were living in an era without the conveniences of calling 911, reporting abuse, child protective services, etc.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder & The Grieving Process

As a giant, Fezzik likely had severe body image issues. We call this Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and it can include shame hopelessness and suicidality, which can improve with psychiatric counseling (Weingarden et al., 2018). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and SSRI’s may help someone suffering from BDD. Fezzik doesn’t openly complain about his body, but his quiet nature, disparaging comments, and lack of social skills/involvement show that he may likely be self-conscious about his body, and hesitant to enter any competitive career. This may also be an antisocial personality disorder, or schizotypal disorder. Peculiar speech can also indicate this illness, and he does rhyme words unnecessarily on one occasion, though that instance does not appear to be the clang association of rhyming many totally unrelated words seen often in more extreme cases of schizophrenia. He works for Vizzini to carry Vizzini around, and states that he isn’t very smart but has a strong body. He uses his strong body to find employment and is even willing to attempt to kill Wesley for his employer Vizzini. He is friendly with Westley before they fight, showing that he doesn’t really want to kill Wesley but must comply to the demands of his employer since he cannot find any other type of work based on how stupid he perceives himself to be, and his lack of social skills. Later he joins Wesley, which confirms our suspicion that he is a nice guy deep down. We see Fezzik become happier as he find a better employer who treats him with more respect.

Indigo must have been confused about his role in bringing justice to his father’s killer. Indigo probably grew up as an orphan in an irregular family arrangement, we call this a mixed family. He likely lived with his grandparents, or in a single parent home with his widowed mother. One of his coping mechanisms was sword fencing, and he became very skilled at this sport. Involvement in sports can often help depressed people or those dealing with loss to not focus on their sorrows. Indigo was happy to move on to a new stage of life even though his complicated grieving process was prolonged across the years.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it appears that the mental status of the characters involved in this story played a large role in how they acted and what side they chose to be on. We saw the limitations and strengths of the characters as they used their personalities and skills to get what they wanted, and we saw how their weaknesses costed them greatly on several accounts. We saw the characters help each other with various types of counseling when professional therapists were not available. It is wise to note that the fanciful thinking of the antagonists in the story would be dangerous if played out in real life. The story carries the abilities of the characters to extremes. These illnesses are much more limiting and difficult to deal with, especially when minimal treatments are available.

References

Mpofu, E., & Crystal, R. (2001). Conduct disorder in children: Challenges, and prospective cognitive behavioural treatments. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 14(1), 21–32. https://doi-org.erl.lib.byu.edu/10.1080/09515070110053355

Weingarden, H., Shaw, A. M., Phillips, K. A., & Wilhelm, S. (2018). Shame and defectiveness beliefs in treatment seeking patients with body dysmorphic disorder. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 206(6), 417–422. https://doi-org.erl.lib.byu.edu/10.1097/NMD.0000000000000808

ZHOU, D.-D. et al. Augmentation agents to serotonin reuptake inhibitors for treatment-resistant obsessive-compulsive disorder: A network meta-analysis. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, [s. l.], v. 90, p. 277–287, 2019. Disponível em: <http://search.ebscohost.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2019-00186-029&site=ehost-live&scope=site>. Acesso em: 4 abr. 2019.

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