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Movie Review: Pan’s Labyrinth

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Pan’s Labyrinth is from the bizarre and highly creative mind of Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. It finally arrived after much anticipation on my part since I first saw the movie poster featuring the grey, alien-ish Pale Man with eyes in his palms.

This film is a fairytale for adults, although it may appear to be a horror film. While it is not as visually arresting as a Harry Potter film, it can be seen to be full of allegory as it tries to tell two seemingly unrelated stories. I found it to be more thought provoking than entertaining.

The first story is about a young girl who travels with her pregnant mother to a military outpost in the 1944 Spanish Civil War to be with her stepfather – a grim, cold, and violent Captain in the army. The rebels are in the hills and the arrogant Captain insists that his wife give birth at the military post because he believes a child should be born wherever the father is. There’s nothing but subtle hostility between the Captain and his stepdaughter. Fortunately, she forms a bond with her mother’s lady-in-waiting.

En route, the mother’s car stops in the middle of a forest and the young girl encounters a stick-figured insect that she imagines is a fairy.

At the fortress, the girl follows the fairy into the nearby ancient labyrinth, which has a winding stone staircase that goes deep underground. In this dusty, gothic setting, she encounters another magical creature – a talking goat-like creature (Pan) that explains her role as a netherworld princess from long ago, essentially reincarnated.

He hands the girl a book containing a series of tests to prove that she is still some magical princess and not a human. The Pan creature is frightening in appearance, not unlike the imagery satanic heavy metal bands use for their album covers.

The other frightening creature that you may have seen looks a bit like a naked, emancipated, six-foot tall alien with eyes that it places in the palms of its hands to see. It’s a slayer of children and isn’t really explained. When he walks around with his fingers splayed around his face, it’s as if he is saying, “Peek-a-boo. I see you.” It would have been interesting to see more of the Pale Man creature or learn about its beginning. Actor Doug Jones played the role of both creatures.

The war story and the fantasy story are not immediately, inextricably linked to one another. If you think about it long enough, you can find ways, strong or weak, to justify in your mind the fantasy story informing the military story of good rebels, horse-back riding soldier bad guys, and informants. Therein lies the film’s fault, or genius, depending on what you took away from it.

The rich, visual styling and exotic creatures promised a more meaty fantasy story than what was delivered. On its own, the war story wasn’t terribly compelling or original. Unlike the constant sheen of eye-popping, overblown visuals employed by Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton, Guillermo del Toro will hopefully be known for his conservative, yet effective use of visual styling rather than his storytelling with this much talked about film.

My rating for this film is .

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About Triniman

Almost weekly, Triniman catches new movies, and adds one or two CDs to his collection. Due to time constraints, he blogs about only 5% of the CDs, books and DVDs that he purchases. Holed up in the geographic centre of North America, the cultural mecca of Canada, and the sunniest city north of the 49th, Winnipeg, Triniman blogs a bit when he's not swatting mosquitoes, shoveling snow or golfing.
  • A friend of mine pointed out an interesting way to look at the film: which part is the “real” story and which is the “fantasy”? Since the movie begins [and ends] with the “once upon a time” narrator speaking about the Princess being sent away from her kingdom, maybe that’s reality…and the story of the cruel stepfather/fascist captain is the fairy tale.

  • You could be right, handguy. Interesting perspective.

    The film has been nominated for 6 Academy Awards.

    Achievement in Art Direction
    Achievement in Cinematography
    Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
    Achievement in Makeup
    Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)
    Original Screenplay

  • Aygee

    Pan’s Labyrinth is less a “fantasy” movie than it is a faerie tale. This accounts for the lack of an overly developed explanation for the events focusing on Ofelia and her tasks. The original Grimm fairy tales, for example, often fail to explicate WHY monsters are the way they are – the old woman in the woods eats children, like the Pale Man does, with no in-depth backstory. Pan’s Labyrinth harkens back to those fairy tales which feature children helpless, alone, perhaps even brutalized in a world which offers NO prince on a white horse riding to the rescue.

  • Aaron

    Argument for human world as fantasy:

    This is quite obviously a puberty rite of passage folktale. All the necessary elements are there: trials, helpers, trickster, death, and rebirth.

    Typically in these stories the adolescent has a fantasy “mirror”, a character that parallels them in their trials. This would be Mercedes. All of Ofalia’s tasks are paralleled by Mercedes. Merceneds has a brother leading a revolution, both are holders of a key, sent on tasks by a ruler, escort a child away from harm ect. In many scenes Mercedes is seen embracing or covering Orphelia as if to point out they are the same character in parallel existences.

    At the end the resistance fighters do not really acknowledge Ophelia’s body; only Mercedes.

    Just a few thoughts.