Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro
This is the first movie Guillermo del Toro made which got the world paying attention. I had already watched The Devil’s Backbone, so I found some of the themes and story choices familiar. The juxtaposition of youthful curiosity and massive destruction being the biggest similarities between those movies. I didn’t manage to see Pan’s Labyrinth at the cinema, but I remembered watching it in a big group with a lot of friends. There were a couple of moments where everyone reacted, a couple of times everyone shielded their eyes. Overall enjoyed it, but I’ve not been able to watch it again since.
Watching it again, snuggled in blankets on a chilly, rainy Spring Sunday afternoon I didn’t find it nearly as traumatic. It’s a stunning film, beautifully shot, beautifully conceptualised, beautifully acted. It had to be rough and nasty given the setting. I have very limited knowledge of the Spanish civil war beyond it was very nasty.
The nastiest scenes I remember are Carmen cutting the captain’s mouth open and his later sewing it closed. The latter is what I averted my eyes from last time, this time I was able to watch it, knowing it’s CGI and marvelling at how bloodless the procedure was. Have I grown as a person? Maybe. Is it still a wickedly uncomfortable scene? Yes. But it does well at demonstrating what a hard bad ass the captain is.
I love Guillermo del Toro’s design aesthetic. The glorious swirls and earthy symmetry of his monsters. Everything is both beautiful and unsettling, which seems perfect for a fairy tale. It’s very much the first time he’s got to be really fantastic and he spread his wings later in the Hell Boy franchise. This is simpler, better contained in the confines of the dual reality setting. It’s visually lovely.
Does it make me love the people? Yes, I love Carmen and her boyfriend, I love the kindly doctor who’s willing to euthenise when asked, and obviously I love Ofelia, she’s your classic plucky, imaginative fairy tale protagonist. Sort of a reverse of Sarah from the Labyrinth in that she chooses the labyrinth and she takes the baby there.
Bechdel test: Ofelia and her mother Carmen exchange the first conversation of the film – about Ofelia’s book of fairy tales, about how Carmen needs the car stopped, about Ofelia seeing a fairy. So yes, the first thing this film does is pass. Later Ofelia talks to Carmen as well.
Capitán Vidal: Tell my son the time that his father died. Tell him…
Mercedes: No. He won’t even know your name.
State of Mind: The end of this movie is one of those big ‘are you an optimist or pessimist’ tests. Like Before Sunrise, a bit.What is real? Is it just the civil war stuff above ground? Does Ofelia die because she’s shot there? Or is the magic real? Can a mandrake root heal a failing pregnancy, and will Ofelia live on in the labyrinth? I choose to believe that the magic is real, that she lives on with the Faun and with the fairies, watching over her younger brother. I think the movie leaves it open to interpretation, although the last thing we see is the fig tree beginning to bloom, which indicates she has had an effect on the world by removing the toad at the start of the movie.
Faun: And it is said that the Princess returned to her father’s kingdom. That she reigned there with justice and a kind heart for many centuries. That she was loved by her people. And that she left behind small traces of her time on Earth, visible only to those who know where to look.