Review: Pan’s Labyrinth

February 13th, 2007

I don’t usually review films – in large part, because I rarely go out to see them. However, having recently viewed this one, I recognize it as the sort of fantasy tale that I do usually review. Here is my take – in which I discuss the ending of the film.

My reviews of short genre fiction can be read at www.irosf.com

Review: Pan’s Labyrinth, directed by Guillermo del Toro

This is a film in two parts, joined not-quite-successfully into a whole.

One is a historical piece about Franco’s Spain, where the brutal fascist Captain Vidal is ruthlessly hunting down the remnants of the Republican resistance in the last year of WWII.

The other is a child’s fairy tale about a princess from an underground realm who, once upon a time, escaped into the sunlight – and died there. The fairytale princess is reborn as a mortal child into the other story, for Ofelia’s doomed, widowed mother has married Captain Vidal, and is now undergoing a difficult pregnancy. Despite the risk to her life, he has insisted that she join him in the remote mill where he has made his headquarters. On the journey, Ofelia, a dreamy child who loves to read fairy tales [effectively played by young Ivana Baquero] encounters a ruined cenotaph and is recognized by its guardian, a creature she calls a fairy.

The moment Ofelia meets the Captain, as his black-gloved hand closes menacingly around hers, we know that she is in danger. Soon afterward, when we see him deliberately beat a young man to death in the presence of his father, we realize just how deadly the peril is. Ofelia’s mother wants her to call the Captain “Father;” she refuses, remaining true to her own dead father.

In the meantime, her other true father is seeking her out. The fairy leads her to an ancient labyrinth, where she encounters a rather sinister faun who tells her she can return to the underground kingdom where her father is king, that she is a princess. But first, she must prove herself worthy by performing the traditional three tasks of fairy tales.

From this point, the path of the story should be clear, with its two arcs converging: as the Captain threatens Ofelia, she will attempt with increasing desperation to complete her tasks in order to escape from him into the safety of the underworld. Only it doesn’t quite happen that way. Sergi López plays the Captain with consummate menace, as a cold, pathologically damaged man fixated on the son who will bear his name. But little of this menace is directed at Ofelia; even when he catches her trying to join the resistance fighters after he mother’s death, he does not punish her. He is simply not interested in her.

And while Ofelia clearly dislikes the Captain, she does not seem particularly motivated to escape from him, even after her mother has died. Rather, she is seduced or enchanted by the fairytale world, by the notion of being a fairytale princess. She is not obviously desperate, as she should be. When the faun tells her that she has failed her second test, she abandons her attempts to enter the underworld until he returns to offer her another chance. It is the faun who seems desperate, not Ofelia. These two characters, Ofelia and the Captain, dominate the film, but each in their separate story arcs. Until the very end, they do not confront one another directly, which would have unified their stories into a thematically coherent whole.

The two halves of the film are disconnected in other ways. The historical story, where the Captain is at the center, is brutally real. Its close attention to detail compels the belief of the audience. The fairy tale scenes, on the other hand, do not. Now, in many such stories there is a deliberate ambiguity about the element of the fantastic, leaving open the possibility that such scenes are only a dream, or the product of the child’s imagination. In such cases, it would be appropriate to make them appear less realistic. However, this is not the case here. The mandrake root the faun gives Ofelia to put under her mother’s bed is quite visible to both her mother and the Captain. We are apparently meant to believe it is real, however the CGI screams: fake! Most of the other effects and the fantasy scenery are likewise obviously fake: the labyrinth, the dying tree, the monsters. They would strongly compel disbelief under any circumstances, but the contrast with the realism that surrounds them doubles the impression of falseness.

This contrast is particularly stark in the scene where Ofelia crawls into the heart of the dying tree. The ground there is muddy; Ofelia’s new patent-leather shoes [this at the height of WWII rationing] are already ruined, and she is wearing the new dress her sick mother has made her. Removing the dress, which falls into the mud, Ofelia crawls into the hollow tree, where the ground is a deep, thick viscous brown wallow. We see the mud clinging to Ofelia’s underwear, to her limbs, matting her hair, smearing her face. Nothing is more real than that mud. In contrast, the giant pillbugs that live inside the tree are cartoon-like. And the giant toad inspires only disgust and perhaps derision, not fear. There is no real menace. Thus we can not see Ofelia as a hero for vanquishing the toad. What we fear is not the cartoon creature, but the real punishment that we know is waiting for Ofelia when she returns home with her ruined dress and shoes. The menace lies in the Captain, expecting her to appear neat and clean at his dinner party. Yet, nothing happens. The Captain does not care that Ofelia is missing. Twice, then, this scene misses when it could have so easily delivered.

The film also strikes a false note when Ofelia is sent to retrieve an object from the child-eating Pale Man’s banqueting hall. It is just not creditable that Ofelia, who has listened to the fairies from the first moment they appeared to her, would now wave away their urgent warning not to touch any of the food on the Pale Man’s table, as she had been instructed by the faun. She displays no overwhelming hunger that would compel her to do this. Nor, when she wakes the monster in consequence, do we have a moment of doubt that she will escape, at the last instant, from the clumsy, slow, shambling thing – a film cliché. The scene could have been cut whole from a monster cartoon for children.

Not all the CGI effects are failures. The book the faun has given Ofelia, which writes itself for her as she opens its pages, is quite well-done, in particular the scene where blood spreads across the page and we know that Ofelia’s mother is suffering a miscarriage. But it is the only truly magical thing in the film, the only effect in which the intended adult audience can believe without a struggle to disregard the clumsiness of the animation and design. It could so easily have been otherwise, because, seeing this fairy world through Ofelia’s wondering eyes, we truly do want to believe. If only the effects weren’t working so hard to convince us otherwise.

Another problem with this film, though it may not be so apparent to all viewers, concerns the mythology. The original, Spanish title is El Laberinto del Fauno, which translates directly to “The Labyrinth of the Faun.” This is both more euphonious and accurate than the English “Pan’s Labyrinth,” as the god Pan himself appears nowhere in the film; the creature that Ofelia encounters in the labyrinth is a faun, although its appearance is more satanic than faunish – another unfortunate effect from this film’s designers.

However, both Pan and fauns were creatures of the wildland in ancient mythology, the uncultivated woods and fields. Yet we never find the faun in the forest where it ought to be, only in the labyrinth [and Ofelia's room]. And the labyrinth is no wild, uncultivated place, it is merely a portal to Ofelia’s true home: the underworld. In short, Pan is the wrong god. The right god should have been Haides, lord of the dead, for this tale is really a tale of the underworld; it is the tale of Persephone, inverted – the daughter of the god and goddess of death, who wanders out into the world of life and sunlight to be lost, then returned. The scene as Ofelia finds her mother enthroned beside the lord of the underworld – rejoined with her dead parents, escaping from the anti-father, the Captain – could have been a powerful thematic climax to this story, unifying its two arcs. If only the film had been telling this story.

31 Responses to “Review: Pan’s Labyrinth”

  1. MattDon 13 Feb 2007 at 4:58 pm

    Now, in many such stories there is a deliberate ambiguity about the element of the fantastic, leaving open the possibility that such scenes are only a dream, or the product of the child’s imagination.

    I have not read any comments by Guillermo del Toro on the film where he’s tipped his hand one way or another, but my impression of the film was that it featured precisely this sort of deliberate ambiguity. For example, on one hand is Ofelia’s entrance into Vidal’s room to fetch her brother, apparently via a chalk-drawn door; on the other hand is Vidal who, along with we the audience, sees no faun at the end of the film when he confronts Ofelia. There is a dialog throughout the film between both characters’ fantasies — unquestioning obedience to fascism and to fairytale — and interestingly it’s only by disobedience at the end that Ofelia is able to achieve the inner nobility that would befit a fairytale princess.

    Or to put it more simply, I felt the film was about the strengths and the limitations of the fantasies that sustain us.

  2. Lois Tiltonon 13 Feb 2007 at 5:17 pm

    I would quite agree with this, and indeed I would have preferred it, except for the case of the mandrake root. Ofelia’s mother clearly heard it scream.

  3. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 13 Feb 2007 at 7:46 pm

    Actually, what I liked was the fact that, while there was a nod to the usual careful ambiguity of whether such things were the child’s fancies or actual reality, what del Toro was actually playing with was the logic of fairyland and the fey.

    The mandrake root is an actual physical tangible thing, yet when found by the captain and Ofelia’s mom, plays possum, pretending to be, at most, an inert mandrake root. Only when it’s thrown on the fire does it writhe and scream. The fact that Ofelia’s mother does hear it works for me for two reasons:

    1. The Shrieking of the Mandrake is traditionally followed by the hearer’s death
    2. There’s a short list of those able to perceive the fey:
    A. the innocent (a sliding scale including some to any children)
    B. the mad (including the temporarily mad, such as the fevered, the drunk, the drugged and the delerious)
    C. the inspired (artists, musicians, storytellers, etc.)
    D. the doomed (anyone about to die, whether they realize this or not)

    Ofelia’s mom, as a woman about to die in the throes of labor, neatly checks off B and D. I’d be really annoyed if she hadn’t heard the mandrake.

    The captain, on the other hand, doesn’t notice any of it until Ofelia slips him a mickey, at which point he gets caught in the nightmare of the labyrinth closing its passage before him after Ofelia has passed. Of course, he doesn’t see the faun at the end, but that also fits with the mythology, since it obviously suits the fauns purpose to appear to Ofelia but not to the captain.

    Another nice touch regarding the appearances is that the first appearance of the fairy from the cenotaph, it comes out looking like an insect, but only after Ofelia shows it the silhoette in her book of fairytales does it do the classic “appear in a form that is pleasing to me” and become a more modern sprite (though still wonderfully insectoid).

    I don’t agree with the “You got your Underworld in my Fairyland! You got your Fairyland in my Underworld!” criticism because, in lots and lots of the mythology, the two are different aspects of the same thing. Fey=Fated=Doomed. Fairies, ghosts and other spirits appear to those about to die, and there’s a good reason for it.

    Pluto/Proserpina, Oberon/Titania, are just different aspects of the same myth. Who’s Persephone if not the original “Stolen Child”?

    The second task, the visit to the Pale Man, is interesting because with the images on the wall, it’s clear that he’s both the boogeyman under the bed (literally) but also Saturn, the child eater. Which makes it technically a visit to grandpa’s house, given the relationship of Ofelia to the king and queen of the Underworld.

    Personally, I had a bit of a problem too with Ofelia disregarding the warnings about not eating anything from the forbidden table, but they had carefully set up the bit where she had been sent to bed without any supper and I looked at it as part of the enchantment of the place. Plus there was a wonderful parallelism between the “Eyes of Santa Lucia” eyes on the plate in front of the Pale Man and the fact that Ofelia takes exactly two grapes, both the same size as the eyes, from the bowl with the more traditional pomegranates.

    Of course, I also expected him to grab her shoes as she escapes out the hatch, giving a different aspect to the heap of children’s shoes we see earlier, but as with a lot of things in film, I expect they tried that and decided it didn’t look at good and so had Ofelia escape with both her shoes.

  4. Lois Tiltonon 13 Feb 2007 at 8:03 pm

    Certainly there is a strong congruence between myth and fairy tale, and I liked the way the film played with this. What bothers me is that the faun/Pan are in the wrong myth. What proper Pan references do you find in this film? [there is one very good refererence they might have used]

    I think the shoes would have been a good touch.

  5. MattDon 13 Feb 2007 at 9:07 pm

    Good points, Kevin. I had coincidentally just read Avram Davidson’s essay on the mandrake a few months ago, so it was fun to see the legend in action that way. That said, Lois, it actually wasn’t at all clear to me that Ofelia’s mother heard it scream (of course, Ofelia did, and look what happened to her). I saw the movie a few weeks ago so may be misremembering, but I don’t think the mother looked toward it or acted as though she was surprised that this thing in the fire was suddenly screaming. Rather, it starts to scream and at the same time she clutches her belly in pain. While indeed playing with the legend of the mandrake, I saw it as another case of Ofelia’s fantasy providing context for the events of her world. After all, the mandrake was in the fire for a while before it started to scream…

    The historical inaccuracy of the faun aspect didn’t bother me because it’s easy to rationalize: we’re told that multiple fauns were sent out to find the princess, so if the fantasy is real then perhaps one of those other emissaries gave rise to our own faun/satyr myth (or for that matter the idea of a minotaur at the heart of a labyrinth). Also, switching it around, if this is a fantasy made up by a young girl with an ear for stories, it might very well conflate different mythological sources. “Pan” I ascribe to the same sort of well-intentioned people responsible for “His Majesty’s Dragon” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” The faun in the movie never identifies himself as Pan, does he?

    Anyway, I don’t want to argue with your review; just wanted to add another perspective.

    I do agree that the scene with the Pale Man didn’t feel quite…complete. As I was watching it, I too felt there should have been some more obvious show of compulsion to eat something from the table. Now that some time has passed, I think I see it as Ofelia trying to stretch her wings a bit. After all, she ignored the fairies and still chose the right keyhole…hey, if she’s hungry, why not have a bite? But yes, I was expecting a little more…the shoes would have been good, or it would have been clever if she replaced the Pale Man’s eyes with grapes, or moved the eyes, or…something.

  6. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 13 Feb 2007 at 9:13 pm

    I don’t find it really the wrong myth, since I think he’s drawing more on late medieval than the Greco-Roman. It had echoes of the legend of the Venusberg, when Venus took all her nymphs and fauns and fled from the oncoming Christianity rather than dying like the rest of the Roman gods. I think there’s a good bit of that legend in this story, especially since when we see the faun, he’s a very very old faun. I’d say he’s Pan in the same way that the Pale Man is Saturn…it’s been a long time since they’ve used those names, if they even had them to begin with, and they’re much older and much diminished. Saturn was originally bested by Zeus; now he gets beat by a disobedient little girl and a trio of pixies.

    I would have been happier with Ofelia losing a shoe, and were I to tell it as a fairytale, she most assuredly would. However, as I said, I expect they tried to film that but weren’t having it come out quite right, so it got left on the cutting room floor.

    What legend/motif were you hoping would be incorporated?

  7. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 13 Feb 2007 at 9:20 pm

    Matt–

    I had the exact same discussion with my friends after the movie, regarding the eyes and the grapes and swapping them, or, as it seemed to me before I saw that the eyes fit into the stigmata in the palms, I was expecting Ofelia to put the eyes into the two slits on the monsters face, though as those turned out to be his nostrils, it would have made for farce whether or not he inhaled or exhaled.

    Ben and I laughed a good bit about the image and hoped that if they did an Epic Movie II, they’d parody that sequence for all the comedy value possible in the scene. I’d imagine a food fight.

    (Note: Epic Movie is a atrocious, but I saw it with a large group so we had a good time anyway talking about how bad it was, and of course the occasional bits and bobs that were actually entertaining)

  8. Lois Tiltonon 13 Feb 2007 at 11:51 pm

    I thought the bit about Ofelia choosing the right keyhole was a good one. Way to pass the test, Ofelia!

    Then – she blew it.

    Of course, she could have eaten the eyes.

  9. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 14 Feb 2007 at 2:19 am

    Actually, I thought the right way to violate the spirit of the test but not the letter would be for Ofelia to load up a take-out box and take it with her. The rule is that you’re not supposed to eat anything in the Underworld/Fairyland, but it doesn’t say anything about getting fairy fruits to-go.

    The business with the keys was good and it showed her taking initiative and trusting her instinct. I’ve seen that in at least one other fairytale before, the precise same test with the three keyholes and passing it by violating the conventional wisdom/not choosing the most glitzy option. Of course, she then blew it, but escaped due to the fairies sacrificing themselves to buy her time and being clever enough to sketch a new door on the ceiling.

    Actually with the three tests, the first was the test of gross-out factor (a classic fairytale test), the second was actual danger mixed with cleverness, and the third was strength of character. I really liked the way they were designed, honestly.

  10. MattDon 14 Feb 2007 at 7:24 am

    Likewise — and I liked how the three tests required progressively larger doses of disobedience to solve. The notion of questioning our fairytales seemed to be key to the film.

  11. Beth Adele Longon 14 Feb 2007 at 8:15 am

    Thank you for this review! I saw ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ with three other people, and all of us hated it. I personally was overwhelmed by the film’s brutality, which far exceeded my admittedly low threshold, but I could have set that aside intellectually if I’d felt the story itself held up under scrutiny. Your review elaborated on why I felt so disconnected from the story itself, regardless of violence and gore. Thank you!

    One serious flaw I found in the film was its utter lack of contrast — the story and the visuals alike were all grim, dark, unchanging. There was no comic relief, and very few moments of warmth or hope. As my favorite writer says, Hamlet is the Shakespeare play with the most jokes; the grimmer the tale, the more you have to lighten it.

    Again, thanks for a great review of a film that has been garnering unprecedented praise and I which I found deeply disappointing.

  12. Lois Tiltonon 14 Feb 2007 at 8:37 am

    Kevin, you’re sneaky! I like that!

    I think we’re mostly agreed on what we think the film should have been doing. Our main difference seems to be whether we thought it was successful.

    The effects they used with the book were so neat and magical, it vexes me that most of the rest of them fell so far short. I wanted to be thinking: Wow! Instead, I couldn’t help thinking: Sheesh! Cheesy FX!

    I put a lot of emphasis on the mandrake root episode because it’s the one place before the end where the fantasy and the historical arcs truly meet. This is where we naturally look for the signs with which to resolve the fantasy/imagination ambiguity. And I note that in the “real world,” the mandrake root did actually seem to be curing Ofelia’s mother. I find it hard to conceive of this being the child’s imagination. As well as her hearing the scream. Then there is also the question of where she got the mandrake root itself [if it is a mandrake root], because of all the objects she brings back from the fairyland world, the root is the one that the adults do clearly see [the chalk is more ambiguous, and more easily explained.]

    To me, the effect of all these signs is to point rather firmly away from the imagination – where I agree that it ought to have been.

    Beth, to me, the toad scene was comic relief, but not in a good way.

  13. Jamieon 19 Feb 2007 at 12:25 am

    While I did not need comic relief in this film, I did hope for a more fulfilling conclusion and sense of satisfaction when I left the theater. I was so excited at the beginning and throughout the middle, but at some point I just started wanting more. If Mercedes was so brave to tell the Captain that he’s “not the first pig” she’s gutted, and she sliced his mouth after stabbing him in the back, why didn’t she just kill him sooner? What was she waiting on? As for the special effects, I liked the faun and the fairies, but the frog was completely unbelievable, and it didn’t match the darkness pervading the other parts of the film. Not once was I scared in this this scene, nor did I find Ofelia brave in attacking him. But, I do like the theory about disobedience and the idea that we must be careful of the fantasies we cling to. Also, it was really killing me about why “Pan” was in the title. Thanks for the discussion…it really helped.

  14. Lois Tiltonon 19 Feb 2007 at 8:30 am

    We try to be of assistance!

    It wasn’t really my intention to review the historical arc of this film, but I did also find it less than credible that Mercedes, in those circumstances, would not have killed Vidal.

    The satanic aspect of the faun was not faun-like, but it did fit the role of the faun as the Tempter, whom Ofelia was not certain that she ought to trust.

    On the other hand, if the faun is supposed to be the product of Ofelia’s imagination, I find it hard to believe this is how she would have imagined a faun, instead of something like her fairies, something frisky and cute.

  15. Paulon 27 Feb 2007 at 9:41 pm

    Regarding the “Pan” in Pan’s Labyrinth.

    We’re not meant to, really mistake the Faun in the movie for the Greek God Pan in any real sense. The reason why the movie in English is called “Pan’s Labyrinth” rather than “The Labyrinth of the Faun” (which would be the literal translation) is a simple linguistic one.

    The producers and director were concerned that English (read: American) audiences would confuse a Faun with the homonym fawn, and completely misunderstand what the movie was about. And thus, the English title for the movie substitutes Pan for faun.
    Now, if they had named the movie Hades Labyrinth…they would have given away the game, but it would have been a more accurate title.

  16. Lois Tiltonon 27 Feb 2007 at 11:12 pm

    I understand that the English title was the director’s own choice, but as I see it, both Faun and Pan are equally wrong for this tale.

    Hades’ Labyrinth, indeed.

  17. Scotton 28 Feb 2007 at 2:29 pm

    “I have not read any comments by Guillermo del Toro on the film where he’s tipped his hand one way or another, but my impression of the film was that it featured precisely this sort of deliberate ambiguity. ”

    He does so right here.

    “MG [interviewer]: … This is the dispute going on among people who have seen your film. Was Ofelia in her fantasy world? Was it a real world? I keep saying such questions pose a false dichotomy.

    Del Toro: Yes, of course. And it’s intimate. If the movie works as a piece of storytelling, as a piece of artistic creation, it should tell something different to everyone. It should be a matter of personal discussion. Now objectively, the way I structured it, there are three clues in the movie that tell you where I stand. I stand in that it’s real. The most important clues are the flower at the end, and the fact that there’s no way other than the chalk door to get from the attic to the Captain’s office.

    MG: Yes, and again referring back to the dynamic of their dyad, Mercedes notices the chalk door; they aren’t just in Ofelia’s imagination.

    Del Toro: Objectively, those two clues tell you it’s real. The third clue is she’s running away from her stepfather, she reaches a dead end, by the time he shows up she’s not there. Because the walls open for her. So sorry, there are clues that tell you where I stand and I stand by the fantasy. Those are objective things if you want. The film is a Rorschach test of where people stand.”

  18. Lois Tiltonon 28 Feb 2007 at 4:23 pm

    Interesting comments, thanks!

    Those weren’t the strongest clues to my mind, but it was the conclusion I reached.

    I discounted the chalk marks because Ofelia could have drawn them while they did not really open.

    Surprising that he didn’t mention the mandrake root at all.

  19. Scotton 28 Feb 2007 at 9:21 pm

    Well, the mandrake root’s effects COULD be considered coincidence. The mother getting better? Well, unexplained things happen in medicine. Suddenly getting worse when the root burned? Stress. However, del Toro unequivocally states that Ofelia COULD NOT have escaped her room at the end without the chalk–the door was locked and guarded.

  20. Lois Tiltonon 28 Feb 2007 at 10:48 pm

    Well, I would have preferred to learn this from the film, rather than the interview.

    But this is into mileage varying territory again, as I am often unclear about spatial relationships, such as those found in mazes.

  21. MattDon 28 Feb 2007 at 11:11 pm

    Indeed interesting, thanks for posting that. The chalk door I did notice — that was what I identified in my first post as evidence for the reality of the fantastic part of the story. The others seemed explainable to me as matters of perception or the confusion of cause and effect often featured in myth.

    It’s always a curious thing when an author clarifies a mystery: sometimes it is very valuable and enriching; other times I find I prefer my own interpretation and wish the author has just let the work speak for itself.

  22. Scotton 01 Mar 2007 at 9:25 am

    I thought he tipped his hand pretty well in the film: Ofelia clearly and explicitly tells the faun that she can’t get out of the room; with a flourish, he then gives her the chalk. And we saw her run into the dead end and look around, scared. The walls then opened up, let her through, and closed; the Captain arrived right after and looked around in confusion before turning around and leaving to find another way through.

    I don’t think del Toro added anything original in that interview–he just pointed out what was already openly there.

  23. Charles Son 10 Mar 2007 at 4:51 pm

    I lost my vision glasses recently and hence had to watch ‘El Labirinto del Fauna’ without last night. I’m slightly shortsighted, but not so much that I was able to read the English sub-titles for instance. This is probably why I haven’t been bothered by the lack of realism in the fantasy scenes as most of us seem to have. After all it is an imaginary tale and the pictures should be taken not for what they are but for what impression they leave on us.

    About the toad scene, I don’t think it is giving it justice to treat it as a poorly-made scary sequence. The passage is more about an initiation than an act of bravoury eventhough it clearly sets Ofelia’s own courage and determination, two features also important in Spanish culture. Her determination can be compared to that of Kirikou when he kills the monster from inside the water source cavern in ‘Kirikou & la sorciere’. I found the tension build-up more the result of how she was bound to ruining her mother’s expectations for that day (first the shoes, then the dress, then the time running out) than that of the Capitan.

    About the discussion between Faun/Pan or Hades. There is clearly a bush setting throughout the movie. The timber houses sqreak at night, and the bedrrom night scenes gives the feeling of the hous being nested in a tree. Beside, it can be assumed that Ofelia, as her child her age and left without vigilance, her mother being incapacitated, spends most of her time during the day in the forest (episode in the fig tree where she leaves in the morning to come back only late at night, probably also the location where she would have found the mandrake root) and away from the military compound, where the capitan reigns.

    The two ‘converging arcs’ or fantasy and reality. I have to agree with Lois, in that interpretation given outside the movie, even if by the director itself, should not be taken into account. A piece of art, becomes an independent object once achieved. In my own view, del Toro has managed to keep the two contrasting worlds, Ofelia’s imaginary one, and the brutal realism of the fascist Guardia Civil camp, impervious to each other and without any apparent contradiction throughout the movie. You will note, for instance that Ofelia didn’t loose her shoe in the Pale Man’s episode which couldn’t have been explained otherwise. If del Toro intended to give us the sense that the supernatural was reality, he did in my opinion a poor job: through the movie, one can believe in it or equally not believe in it. The chalk drawing against the walls could be a passage or just a child’s drawing, the mother may or may not have been aware of the mandrake root cries, Ofelia may have taken advantage of the camp disorder to find her way to the Capitan’s room or may have used the magic chalk, etc…).

    About the Pale’s Man scene. Since Freud, dreams are an expression of desires. This scene takes place at night and is most probably a dream. As a little girl who went to bed without dinner, she had to be tempted. Also the scene apparent uncoherence gives the impression of a going through a dream. The pale man eating the elves is reminiscent of some Goya painting such as Chronos eating his children (also drawn from the horrors of the war in his native Spain – with Napoleon at the time).

    Another interesting contrast between the two world is perception of time; on the one hand an ancient kingdom, the old fig tree, the ancient carved stones, all give an impression of being detached from temporality and on the other hand, the Capitan’s ticking precision watch that regulate life in the camp.

    The end is particularly grasping and is reminiscent of that epic moment in the history of movies when Gary Cooper, in as Peter Ibetson, is dying in his jail cell and found himself re-united with his true love, dying too in the same magical instant 1000s of miles away.

  24. Lynon 14 Jun 2007 at 12:15 am

    I’ve got a different, perhaps more sinister take on the movie…

    I feel that the creatures of the underworld are deceptive and evil, and lured Ofelia into believing that she was the princess Moanna, and to complete the tasks (which led to the disobedience of her mom (dirty dress), the big fight between the Captain and her mom (mandrake rook) and ultimately led to her death). Perhaps it’s just me, but I recall that Pan can sometimes be a deceptive and tricky faun in the legends? The faun has horns, and so does the devil (deception and temptation of a princess title) and the creature seemed to be hiding sometime from Ofelia all the time and overwhelmingly pleased when she obeyed and performed the tasks that he asked of her….leading him to believe that she would soon complete the final task of killing her little brother. The faun was also devious and quickly changed the subject when Ofelia asked…who was the baby on the stone in the middle of the labyrinth (Faun had said that the taller figure was him, the girl was Ofelia….).

    Mercedes said in the beginning that the labyrinth was very old, older than the mill, it has been around for a while. Would it be possible that the underworld creatures have existed for a while, luring every young girl that comes around with the 3 tasks, hoping to either gain the innocent blood of their baby siblings (or of the girls themselves, should they refuse) to flow in the 7 circles surrounding the stone…in order to keep the portal open between the underworld that that of the living world? How many other little girls have died at the labyrinth? (The vision Ofelia has at the end could just be a coping mechanism with death, or a real occurance—> the underworld can let you see what you WANT to see)

    Mercedes also remarked that she doesn’t trust fauns…and she doesn’t believe in fairies any more. Could it be that when she was a young girl, she was also approached by the underworld creatures and offered a title of “Princess Moanna”, but that she refused to make it to the 3rd task (seeing as her little brother Pedro is still alive). Mercedes was the one who pulled Ofelia away from the labyrinth at the beginning, and who also seemed to know that she would find Ofelia at the labyrinth when she saw the chalk door beside the bed.

  25. THon 16 Jun 2007 at 7:18 pm

    I’m surprised to see so much discussion about accuracy of mythology and quality of special effects. To me the film was about oppression and human rights, and the need to stand up to fascism, and the brutality in both worlds brought the message home even more strongly. The strength of the symbolism was in how fairytale brutality does occur in our “real” world and it made me realize how much we take realworld brutality for granted (or acceptable, e.g. in war) and squeam when it is in a fairytale.
    Of course, art can be interpreted in different ways…

  26. Lois Tiltonon 16 Jun 2007 at 9:18 pm

    Lyn – I quite agree with you about the sinister creatures of the underworld. My problem with the film is that the faun doesn’t fit in to that scenario. A faun isn’t an underworld creature, nor is Pan. They are creatures of the wild forest, the uncultivated land. Greco-Roman mythology was quite rich in chthonic characters, any one of which would have been more fitting for delivering this message.

    TH – I also agree that the message is the necessity to resist oppressive authority, but the medium in which this message is delivered is mythology, so I think it’s appropriate to criticize this aspect.

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  29. chelseaon 16 Jan 2010 at 2:45 am

    personaly I thought this movie was rather strange.It almost would make some one belive that the faroetale creatures could possibly be real.The reason that is because it balances two different stories realy.While ofelia is in her magical land the captain is fighting in a cruel war.This movie didnt realy seem good to me I dont think many people liked it mostly because it had to do with the underworld.You would expect somthing “nicer” when dealing with this type of story.A lot of you seem to be confused when the bug tutns into a farie like,”what the hell is a farie doing in a fairy tale about the underworld?”well its quiet simple while as a bug that was its true form for the underworld as a strange insect.It only turns into a farie to please ofelua and urge her on.When we first see the fawn we think hes trouble.I tjpught he was atleast.Well one thing that most people can say is I HATED THIS MOVIE ENTIRELY BEGGINING TO END NOTING OF INTEREST AND IT WAS INTIRELY U PLEASANT THE WHOLE WAY ESPECIALY WHEN THAT THING ATE THE FARIES AND THEIR “stuff” KND OR STRINGED BUT I STILL DONT SEE WHY SHE HAD GOTTEN THT DAGGER NO ONE EVER USED’ IT THROUGHUT THE UNDERWORLD WHAT THE FUCK KIND OF STORIE IS THT HOLY SHIT IT WAS DISTURBING!

  30. chelseaon 16 Jan 2010 at 2:53 am

    i entirely agreee with Lyne it didnt seem to make sense to me how mercedees found ofelia but after you said tht it cleard tings up.the movie still see,s horrible to me but atleast i can understsnd it now

  31. Nicole Con 23 Feb 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Why do the fairies tell Ofelia that the dagger is in the middle hole? If it were to symbolize Ofelia’s true identity, Princess Moanna, it wasn’t clear at all because it seems like the fairies are trying to trick her, or maybe the faun told them to tell her to pick the wrong one to test her?

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