The Princess Bride is a funny movie. I laugh every time I see it. You know a film is going to be good when you have character names like: “Princess Buttercup, Wesley, Fezzick and Prince Humperdinck.” I love the “Cliffs of Insanity” scene, the Dread Pirate Roberts, the Rodents of Unusual Size, and the Pit of Despair. I love cute little Fred Savage’s face as he begs Grandpa for more of the story. I adore Mandy Patinkin and the immortal line: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Here’s what I hate: The character Vizzini has a pronounced lisp. His famous line, well 'word,' if you want to get technical, is: “inconceivable.” It's pronounced: “incontheevable!” Here’s what I hate even more: the Archbishop who is to perform the marriage of Buttercup to Prince Humperdinck speaks like Elmer Fudd after he’s had a little too much to drink. During the famous church scene, we hear: “Mawidge…mawidge is what bwings us togevuuuuh….” Then there’s the famous: “Wuv…twue wuv…”
I admit I laughed the first time I saw this. Probably the second, the third, and the thirty-fourth times, too. And then I became a speech/language pathologist. And I began to see how people who have communication disorders are portrayed on TV and in movies. It’s not always a pretty sight, people!
So often, characters who stutter or have some kind of communication disorder are the bad guys. Don’t believe me? Looney Tunes, anyone? Think Porky Pig (bumbling idiot) and Elmer Fudd (bumbling-er idiot). Yes, ‘bumbling-er’ is a word, at least for today! I grew up on these cartoons. Elmer and Porky are always fooled by the wise-cracking, smooth-talking Bugs Bunny, and on the receiving end of many, many mocking references to how they speak. How about Professor Quirrell in the Sorcerer’s Stone? I love J.K. about as much as anyone, and always will, but Quirrell fakes a stutter to appear foolish and weak. A quick online search revealed this: at least fifteen movies produced within the last two decades portrayed communication disorders, in particular stuttering, as either something to mock, a weakness, or a fatal character flaw and evidence of evil or a psychosis. Characters who stutter in “Pearl Harbor,” “My Cousin Vinny,” and “Die Hard With a Vengenace,” to give a few examples, are weak, incompetent, and mocked.
Whew. Deep breath after rant. I admit, the news isn’t always that bad. I do remember a kid’s movie called: “Paulie,” about a talking bird (!!) who befriends a young girl who stutters, and eventually helps her overcome it. The movie is cute and a relatively fair and accurate portrayal of stuttering, but not of…speech pathologists! The speech therapist shows this girl a few picture cards and waits with a look of anxious anticipation on her face for the girl to say the word. When the poor girl can’t, after maybe one or two tries, the therapist turns to the parents with a look of utter hopelessness and says: “maybe you should take these home,” and hands them the cards. What the…???????? No effort to teach one or two of the many, many compensatory strategies out there, such as easy onset, to help the girl learn how to deal with her stutter? Did the writers do any of their research, at all??? I think not.
Enter Colin Firth, aka Mr. Darcy, and Geoffrey Rusch, ‘that pirate guy.’ My heroes! In “The King’s Speech” they portray King George V and a man named Lionel Logue. This is the first movie I’ve ever seen that gives a true and painfully accurate portrayal of someone with a communication disorder. It also demonstrates how a speech therapist can help someone with a stutter learn to communicate more effectively. To be specific, Logue was an “elocution teacher,’ speech therapy being in its infancy at the time, but the portrayal was nevertheless true-to-life and utterly familiar to “speech therapist me.”
Though the movie is R rated and not necessarily something to show the kids, I have my own edited DVD on hand so that if I choose I can show at least a few key scenes to speech therapy clients and to my own kids. Why? Because I want them to understand that having a communication disorder is not a weakness or a fatal character flaw. I want them to demonstrate compassion and patience with those who cannot communicate easily.
Maybe I just want them to admire Colin Firth as much as I do.
What, you don’t think he was fantastic in "The King’s Speech?" Or the best Mr. Darcy in, well, ever?