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Pan's Labyrinth

January 21, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

First off I would just like to say that there are going to be some spoilers floating around in this review, both major and minor, so if you had wanted to see this movie and haven’t yet, I’d suggest skipping this. If you haven’t heard of it, then I wouldn’t worry about it so much. Reading this wouldn’t actually destroy too much of the worth of the movie.

Anyway, anyone who tells you that Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale for adults, no matter if they are a big name reviewer from a respected newspaper, is lying through their teeth. That’s what I was told about this movie before going in to see it and I had the completely wrong idea. Although this movie does contain some fantasy elements, there just aren’t enough to consider this a fantasy or fairy tale movie. But some parent is bound to be stupid enough to see the tagline “fairy tale” and take their kid to see this while ignoring the conspicuous R rating. The kid will consequently be scarred for life and there will be no one to blame. Just be careful. Don’t go watching this movie thinking that it is a movie that only adults will enjoy buy doesn’t necessarily have adult themes. It’s rated R for very good reasons. There is excessive violence, blood, gore, strong language, and disturbing images.

But even through all of this, the previews made the movie out to be a charming fantasy. I think this may have actually been intended though, because the beginning of the movie also purposefully fools the viewer into thinking that the movie will be lighthearted. The film begins with a story sequence describing the daughter of the king of the underworld escaping the kingdom and being blinded by the lights of the world above, shocking her and taking away her memory. In this short little montage, the girl dies and the king of the underworld then waits for an eternity until she would return. Then, much like other movies like Shrek, we find that this story is in a book being read by someone else. In this case it is a little Spanish girl named Ofelia in a car on the way to a mill where her “father” is, with her pregnant mother. On the way the car is stopped and the girl does several things that happen in many lighthearted movies. She places a stone eye into a statue and meets what she believes to be a fairy, which follows the cars after she takes off again.

What happens next is almost a reality check of sorts, and the girl ends up in the mill where her mothers husband lives, a Captain of the Spanish army of fascists. This is the tipoff that the movie is not in some distant universe and the movie actually takes place a little after World War II. The Captain is a fascist officer, and a total prick in the truest meaning of the word. Not more than a half hour into the movie do we see him shoot several people, beat an innocent rabbit hunter to death with a glass bottle, and snidely chose his unborn sons life over his wifes. Throughout the movie, he doesn’t get any better either, and he only continues to make himself out to be a worse and worse person. In some way, he is the evil step-mother of this story, but that is one of the few structural paralells I could make to an actual fairy tail.

To be honest, the entire fantasy part doesn’t come in until a little later, and even then it doesn’t end up being the majority of the movie. The big theme in this movie is the intertwining of these fantastical images that Ofelia sees and the outside world of her adult companions, constantly bickering and getting in trouble. The first thing that Ofelia sees that is in this fantasy wake is the fairy, which then leads her to a mysterious underground ruin by the side of the mill, carved of creepy water-worn stone. And she then meets the faun, a mythical messenger of sorts who mysteriously has no speakable name.

The Faun

What interested me so much about the scene of introduction between Ofelia and The Faun was the tiny little details that tip off what the viewers will eventually come to realize in the rest of the film. By midway through the movie, I hadn’t even come to question whether these fantasy elements were actually real, but by the end of the film when we see Ofelia, broken and tattered looking at a creature which her evil step father cannot see, the viewer starts to question the validity of everything they have seen. Even just this first scene with the Faun can say a million things in underhanded ways. First off, being realistic, most grown adults would freak the fuck out if they saw The Faun, and their first reaction would be to smash his face with a baseball bat and run as far away as possible. And yet, Ofelia walks down the spiral staircase like many fantasy heroes would, and meets The Faun almost a bit casually, not even questioning it when he tells her that she is a princess, born of the moon, and that she must complete three tasks so that she can return to her true home. The viewers have by this point been exposed to the cruelty of the Captain and how Ofelia would most likely love to get away from all this. And yet, the Faun is creepy. Ofelia knows it, the viewer knows it, and it’s on purpose. This was never supposed to be a walk in the park. It won’t be long until Ofelia starts questioning The Faun.

As soon as it starts to be magical and fantastic, the fantasy world runs dry. What seems like a fun adventure into a tree trunk ends up being riddled with disgusting bugs that don’t disturb her at all, and a giant playful hungry frog deflates and Ofelia is left to wander out of the tree trunk into the rain, her beautiful party dress completely ruined. She stands cold and lonely in the rain, unsure of both this new world of creatures and the old one of sadness and disappointment. It’s a beautiful scene, albeit melancholy. The fairy tale only gets worse too. Ofelia’s recovering mother dies, The Faun abandons her, and this baby-eating creeper is met.

I see you!

What all this irreversable pain conveys to the viewer, and I really do believe this is on purpose, is that this world is NOT a figment of Ofelia’s imagination. If it was, then her mind would surely have created loveable and less scarey images, right? Maybe. And yet there are hints dropped constantly at these things not being real. But the whole movie is not this gnarled fairy tale, and actually the majority of the room onscreen is spent with the other characters, be it the cruel and ingeniously hate-able Captain or the sneaky servant Mercedes. What the viewer realizes after not too long is that all the negative stuff in the movie roots from either Ofelia’s fantasy world or the Captain, a power hungry cruel fascist. And even then, is it possible that these “dreams” also root from The Captain? If he was a truely supporting father and good person, these “dreams” would not need to be there to act as escapes for Ofelia, at least as far as the plot goes. But then one has to consider why these escapes are so horrible and creepy. Even then, the dreams seem insignificant compared to how horrible of a person this man is. The political edge deals with fascism and how horribly unfair it is, and how the individual can overcome what is wrong by doing what they feel is right and not necessarily what they are told to do. I won’t say too much about the last scene because if you have read this far chances are you will want to see the movie, but one wonders what would have happened if Ofelia had given her brother for the blood. But she didn’t, and this decision says tons about her character.

There are strong political undertones in this movie, but the majority of the lessons that can be learned from here are universal. It’s no fairy tale, but it says something about them and what they can teach, and how life can be simmilar and different from them. As someone pointed out to me, by the end of the movie it’s completely irrelevant what is real and what is not. You can kind of take it both ways… I think Del Toro left it open like that for a reason, but from reading interviews and such it seems pretty obvious to me that the fantasy was in fact real. But that is not something one can completely understand without watching the movie more than once. It’s not an easy movie, and you won’t like it, but you’ll learn something, I promise.

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