Friday, February 5, 2010

Pan's Labyrinth

by Desi & Portia

"What happens when make-believe believes it's real?"

"You're getting older, and you'll see that life isn't like your fairy tales. The world is a cruel place. And you'll learn that, even if it hurts... Ofelia! Magic does not exist. Not for you, me or anyone else."

Or does it?

That is the question posed by Pan's Labyrinth. The film, by Guillermo del Toro, is a mystifying, captivating and beautiful work of art.

The narrator tells us at the beginning of the film:

A long time ago, in the underground realm, where there are no lies or pain, there lived a Princess who dreamed of the human world. She dreamed of blue skies, soft breeze, and sunshine. One day, eluding her keepers, the Princess escaped. Once outside, the brightness blinded her and erased every trace of the past from her memory. She forgot who she was and where she came from. Her body suffered cold, sickness, and pain. Eventually, she died. However, her father, the King, always knew that the Princess' soul would return, perhaps in another body, in another place, at another time. And he would wait for her, until he drew his last breath, until the world stopped turning...

We then meet Ofelia. The poor young girl's being dragged along with her pregnant mother to live with her stepfather, a captain in the Facist army. Ofelia does not actively hate her stepfather, she does not act maliciously towards him, but she refuses to call him papa. Her mother pleads with her, "It's just a word, Ofelia, just a word." but Ofelia knows it is not. There is a man who is her father, and she is his beloved princess. This man is not him. In her innocent youth, Ofelia refuses to tell such a blatant lie.

When Ofelia and her mother reach their new home, an outpost in the wooded mountains, Ofelia immediately discovers a labyrinth in the woods. And from there on out, Ofelia is swept up into other worldly adventures. And we ask ourselves: are they real or imaginary?

Is Ofelia a princess?

Are her adventures real or our they a product of her own imagination?

The movie is brilliant, yet brutal. While it is definitely a fantasy, no one could accuse it of being an escapist fantasy. The parallell worlds of the spiritual/mythological world that Ofelia ventures into, and the harshly real world of the Spanish rebellion are both cut-throat, dangerous places. Ofelia is the only person that we know is good. She is a protagonist that we cling to, because there's no one else to cling to.

For young children (and yes, even adults on occasion), imaginary worlds and make-believe are a definite escape from their problems-they're a release. If the faun is a product of Ofelia's imagination, he is a far from comforting one. While he appears to be a father-figure, a guardian to this princess lost in a cruel, foreign world, there's always a doubt in our hearts: Do we trust him? What makes Ofelia an extraordianry heroine is her innocence and her trust. She never doubts that what the faun tells her to do is for her own good. She trusts. I don't know if you can read it, but the poster above has a tagline at the bottom, which reads: "Innocence Has A Power Evil Cannot Imagine" Ofelia's innocence is her only weapon to combat the evil and cruelty around her.

"I've had so many names. Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce. I am the mountain, the forest and the earth. I am... I am a faun."

An interesting component in the film is the labyrinth. While "labyrinth" and "maze" are often used as synonyms, they mean and imply vastly different ideas. A maze is a human puzzle, as it were. You try to get from one end of the maze to the other-you are presented with choices: you can either choose to go to your left or to your right. One of these choices will lead you further on the right path, the other will lead you to a dead end.

But in a labyrinth, you only have one path. It leads you to the center, and then out again. You have no idea where you are going; you simply have to trust that you will make it to the middle, through the middle and then out again. That trust is a huge component of the film. Ofelia trusts the faun, she believes that she will get through this dark time in her life, and reach the kingdom she is destined for.

But can we really trust anyone?

And yet, what happens to us when we trust no one. We turn into a Captain Vidal. If we close ourself off from humanity, distrusting all our fellow men, we cease to become human. Ofelia battles bizzare and frightening monsters in her imaginary land. But the real monster is the man she refuses to call father; and she defeats him, though it costs her a terrible price.

Whether the labyrinth, the faun, and the magical world that Ofelia finds is real or not, it doesn't matter. Ofelia wins. She has the power of an innocent, which is unfathomable to those twisted and soured by their own hardened hearts. The blood she spills has the power to open the portal-she joins her mother and father, and spends an eternity by their sides. What more has she ever wanted?

"In darkness, there can be light. In misery, there can be beauty. In death, there can be life...."
G.K. Chesterton writes that "there are some who cannot see a simple truth without calling it a paradox." Paradoxes are beautiful, because they are the Truth. How can God be both God and Man? Yet He is. How can there be Life in Death? How can some something be both Real and yet Not-Real?
Yet they are. Paradoxes are the fabric of our universe-and they are beautiful. The Truth is inscrutably and piercingly simple, and yet it is a beautiful, unfathomable mystery.


  1. So true. Perhaps I will make my way to the movie theatre soon.

  2. That was a great I want to see it even more!

  3. Yeah, it is pretty awesome, but it really deserves the R rating (there were some parts of it that I just couldn't watch).

  4. dears,
    This was an amazing post! You both had such beautiful and insightful things to say. I love you!!
    Your comments about the lack of a father figure were very interesting. I hadn't thought about how the faun really is a type of father figure too. You do trust him more than the captain, who is clearly evil, but you don't know his motives and thus can't give him all of your trust. The girl only finds the father she can certainly trust at the end of the movie. The theological parallels are so astounding!! She trusts that this other world, this true father exists but she can never know for sure. She only finds him after she sacrifices amazing. And combined with the fact that the movie doesn't let you relax or catch your breath or look away until the end (then you--and the girl--find peace) for thought.

  5. Wow. ... I am completely blown away by the brilliance and depth of this post. These thoughts have been circulating my brains since I watched the movie and to read similar thoughts that are so organized and wonderfully insightful is so exciting! I really don't know what to say. I could cite things from the post and tell you two how much I love them but that would mean that I'd be citing the whole post... and that would be kind of pointless, right? Haha. Thank you so much for the BEAUTIFUL review! =D I'm so happy to have read this and I know that these thoughts will be in my head all day, or even for all eternity!