El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Labyrinth of the Faun)
Directed and written by Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Ariadna Gil, and Álex Angulo.
Music by Javier Navarrete
Cinematography by Guillermo Navarro
When I first saw this masterpiece, I did not truly appreciate how great it was. It wasn’t until I kept thinking about the film months and months after I had first seen it that it became clear a re-watch was necessary. And with this re-watch I was able to recognize the potency the movie possesses. Ever since then, every time I see it again I get something new out of it, few modern movies can claim such a privilege.
“Because it is in pain that we find the meaning of life.”
We follow a girl named Ofelia, who has recently moved into a house in the forest with her pregnant mother and her stepfather, Captain Vidal. Captain Vidal is a Franconista, and is living in the middle of nowhere in order to crush the rebellion that still survives after the Spanish Civil War. He is ruthless and manipulative, inflicting fear on those around him. Ofelia must cope with this, while at the same time she encounters a faun that tells her she is the princess of the Underworld, and that her real father awaits for her. Her journey between the magical realm’s quests and the harsh reality of living with a psychopath will leave us questioning exactly what it is we believe.
For those of you that cannot speak Spanish and are worried about the subtitles not being accurate, do not fear. Del Toro himself worked alongside others in order to make it as accurate as possible. I am oftentimes upset over many of the translated works, not because I feel the story does not flow well if one must read instead of hear, but because a lot of the times I see that many things are mistranslated. This usually leads me to feel frustrated, and then I must pause the film and explain to my friends exactly what is meant, they usually say “that makes more sense”. If a person that speaks the language can quickly translate what is meant better than a person whose job it is to do so, there is a problem. A problem we do not have here.
My favourite part of the movie comes from the mythos it uses. It is not simply a parable that centers on a single story to carry the plot along, instead it fuses tales from all over the world in order to make its meaning more impact-full. Creatures, whether or not they have counterparts in other cultures, carry characteristics of all of them; most known is The Pale Man (Cronos), whose walls are filled with images of incarnations of the being all over the world. Stories from Jorge Luis Borges and Francisco Goya, alongside The Great God Pan and The White People and many other more, are the main influences of the magical world. For those that have read or seen those works, it is easy to connect one with the other, and that is one of the many beauties, all is connected in some form.
Alongside the mythology, there is the immense amount of imagery. We are not simply shown the cruelty of Fascist Spain, or the oppressive world many people endure, but the illusion of the Underworld through the labyrinth, having eyes to see clearly (whether mythical world or real), the tree representing the mother being devoured by a horrid frog. All coming head to head in a battle of reality versus dream. Which do you believe?
The movie’s magic does not only come from the story itself, but from the magnificent cinematography implemented in almost every single scene. The film is so aesthetically pleasing that no matter how many times we might see the same images, a trick of the eye will appear and we will see something we had not seen before.
The brightness and darkness is switched, and one is not able to expect which is which. Soldiers walk through trees as they are safe for the time being, and we see the light behind them, while also having them being surrounded by beautiful green; all the while Ofelia is ready to enter a dying tree that is surrounded by similar light and green. In contrast, scenes that are dark and eerie often transport the main character to a safety place, such as the labyrinth and her room, while also being the background for Captain Vidal, the villain of the story.
Another big thing that adds to the tale, are the characters, all different in unique ways. Ofelia is a little girl that wishes nothing more than for the nightmare she is being clouded by to disappears. Mercedes deals with helping rebels, all the while she must serve the Captain. Carmen, who is dealing with being married to a man who obviously intimidates and scares her. The Captain, polished man whose only desire rests on having a son to corrupt like he was corrupted. Doctor Ferreiro, who has a similar experience to that of Mercedes, but with a different ending. And the Faun, whose motivations and purpose is foggy at best, I am still not sure whether or not I would consider him “good”.
Capitán Vidal: You could have obeyed me!
Doctor Ferreiro: But captain, to obey – just like that – for obedience’s sake… without questioning… That’s something only people like you do.
Generally speaking, it is a wonderfully beautiful and magical story rooted in a very harsh reality. I love the mystery around the Faun’s identity. And the brutality of Captain Vidal. The acceptance Ofelia’s mother has for her situation, the scenes of torture and murder, the hidden meaning behind the tree. I even love the murderous child-eating Pale Man, andthat not-so-frightening Frog. Every single time I see it, something new pops off of the screen and I become enthralled. This is the type of film one should write essays about.
Extras for fun:
-One of my favourite videos that describe the beauty of the film, it explores how this film can be seen as a combination of tales rather than one particular narrative.
-One of my favourite posts on the movie: Embracing the Darkness, Sorrow, and Brutality of Pan’s Labyrinth by Mike Perschon
-Movie is a “Spiritual Sequel” to The Devil’s Backbone, which is also amazing.