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.