Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth: Innocence has a Power Evil Cannot Resist




Do you believe in the collective conscious? How about coincidence? What about fate? I find so often that events, occurences, observations happen around me as though out of design, as if they are connected like the gossamer web of a spider. For instance, when I'm doing research for a book on a particular subject, certain opportunities and events present themselves as if conspiring in favor of that subject, at which point I usually have a eureka moment of enlightenment. Part of that is, of course, because I'm more open to it, more receptive, unwittingly looking. But not all...What does this have to do with "Pan's Labyrinth", you ask? Well, I've been dwelling of late on the phenomenon of individual and intellectual freedom (e.g., censorship, book banning and burning)...then, the film my family picks up at the video store is "Pan's Labyrinth"; and I make the connection. "Pan's Labyrinth" is about an individual's choice to bravely and defiantly act--from the heart--against authority rather than blindly remain obedient. The cruel beauty of "Pan's Labyrinth" shows the power of innocence over evil and the triumph of imagination over prosaic servitude.

"Pan's Labyrinth" is a dark and disturbing allegorical adult fairy tale by writer-director Guilermo del Toro. Set in 1944 Spain (the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War) 12-year old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) travels with her frail and pregnant mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil) to a remote village to meet her new stepfather, a sadistic Fascist captain named Vidal (Sergi Lopez), who is bent on exterminating the last Republican resistance to Franco scattered in the nearby hills. Clutching her books of myths and fantasy, which her mother suggests she cast aside to face the real world, Ofelia refuses to call Vidal "Father." From the start, she pegs him rightly as a ruthless monster, and her unruly behaviour only invites wrath from this psychopath who tortures and kills innocent victims without remorse. Ofelia retreats into the dark labyrinth and down a William Blake-like spiral staircase where she encounters an untrustworthy faun (Doug Jones). This encounter sparks a braided narrative that seamlessly weaves from tragic reality to magical mystery as Ofelia struggles to keep them apart. Alas, collision is imminent. The faun tells Ofelia that she is really a princess, but to prove it and gain entrance into the underworld kingdom of immortality, she must complete three dangerous tasks. Each task is progressively more daunting, from scolding a giant toad in a bug-infested cave to fleeing a Goya-like child-devouring 'Satan' with eyes in his hands. And each adventure draws her closer on a terrifying collision with the real world.
"The horrors of both the realistic and surrealistic worlds are woven into the beautifully aligned narrative structure of del Toro's story," said Gene Seymour of Newsday. Glenn Whipp of U-Entertainment, calls Pan's Labyrinth "dark poetry set to startling images, a one-of-a-kind nightmare that has a soaring, spiritual center." Gene Seymour further suggests that "as hard as it may be to watch Guillermo del Toro's dark fairy tale unravel, one comes away from this magical-realist masterwork oddly invigorated by the way the movie and its principal character triumph over the banality of evil through the autonomy of imagination. The movie may give you nightmares, but it may also give you a few more good reasons to get out of bed the next morning."
"Pan's Labyrinth" can be interpreted on many levels from literal to metaphorical allegory to psychological and mythic journey. Every aspect of the film, from tiny visual to people's names (think of Ofelia's name, for instance) has metaphoric meaning. Several excellent reviews by Harry Tuttle (Screenville) and Julian Walker (Julian's Blog) tease out both mythic and Jungian elements of this dark poetic fantasy and I urge you to check these sites for their excellent commentary. From describing the classic Hero's Journey (described by Joseph Campbell) to making references to the mythic Psyche, these two reviewers insightfully unveil the nuance and filigree that weave the complicated tapestry of "Pan's Labyrinth". For me, the allegorical symbol represented by Ofelia's last task brought out the metaphor that struck me the most: the death of innocence required to protect the birth of freedom. Ofelia is the embodiment of the nation's innocence. Refusing to obediently accept the deviant orders of the didactic father figure of Fascism (embodied by both Vidal and the faun), Ofelia (innocence) defies authority and sacrifices her life to "die" to protect her baby brother (freedom). Her sacrifice is rewarded by her immortal 're-birth' (hope and faith).

...Which brings us full circle to what I said earlier of art and its role in society: surely the role of art is to push the edge of comfort and light the way to a vivid incontrovertible truth. In order to do this, art must have freedom of expression, and we must be open to its message.




Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.

15 comments:

josh said...

Sounds like a great movie. Steff-san recommended it to me, but I didn't watch it yet. There's something about having to read subtitles that puts me off a movie.

Should I make the effort?

Steven said...

It does sound interesting. I think it would inspire me to get out of bed just so I wouldn't have the nightmare while sleeping. I like your mind and where it leads you.

Haddock said...

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I have it on my list of rents to come from Amazon. I think this could be a very interesting film :)

sfgirl said...

It's definitely worthwhile seeing, despite the extreme graphic violence (which has its purpose in this case). I think you'll find that reading the sub-titles and watching the visuals will go hand in hand and after awhile you may even forget you're reading...Let me know what you think once you see it.

sfgirl said...

Josh, I haven't read anything by Sarah Dunant but I may have to pick up "The Birth of Venus".

josh said...

The Birth of Venus is my current lunchtime read, and I am enjoying it immensely. I'm only a third of the way through, but my friend Steff told me if I have liked it so far, then I will love the end.

She's a Sarah Dunant fan! Haha!

I will probably read Girl With a Pearl Earring before going on to another Sarah Dunnant.

sfgirl said...

I heard "Girl with a Pearl Earring" was awesome. Didn't they make a movie from it?

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I have this on DVD and can thoroughly recommend it.This movie is something special.

sfgirl said...

I'll probably have to add it to my collection too. It is something worth seeing several times and studying it for its imagery, metaphor and deep-layered messages. This is art in its high form.

HeatherMara said...

This is one of the most unique and engaging movies that I have seen in a long time. I am just sorry that I didn’t catch it in the theatres. I loved the story and symbolism, but I also liked the fact that you were focused on the actors and not the special effects. I didn’t even notice the subtitles after the first few minutes.

Nuvein Foundation said...

I thought it was a unique movie made by one of my favorite directors. An adult fable indeed. Shows what the human spirit can do under very stressful situations.

Lucky for us at CinNews at Perspective Radio, Enrique interviewed Guillermo Del Toro before the release of Pan's Labyrinth. Check it out. You're welcome to quote the article as you wish.

http://nuvein.org/kspr/content/view/113/41/

sfgirl said...

Very cool! Thanks for pointing me to the article by Enrique. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here is the current http for it: http://nuvein.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=137&Itemid=31

sfgirl said...

oh... and I know exactly what you mean, Heathermara! When you engage so thoroughly in a story, you somehow "learn" the language and "feel" your way through the story. It was mezmorizing to say the least. One of my favorites for intelligent metaphor and incredible visual imagery.

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DarkRubyMoon said...

Pan's Labyrinth is an absolutely fantastic movie. It is very dark and not for children to watch however, but is a great movie. It is filled with symbolism, which I think goes over many people's heads. It is worthwhile to watch this movie, but I would suggest re-watching Alice in Wonderland first and Through the Looking Glass first. Also do some reading on your mythology... otherwise, you will loose some of the message of the film. Do you know the symbolism of the labyrinth?

The experience of something in life merging with a thought is called synchronicity. I've had this experience many times, including with Pan's Labyrinth.