“Pan’s Labyrinth”: The Meaning of the Film-Allegory
Pan’s Labyrinth (Spanish: El laberinto del fauno, lit. ’The Labyrinth of the Faun’) is an eerie, scary and exciting story about a difficult time for Spain. We are transported to 1944 – after the end of the civil war, during the Franco dictatorship and the brutal persecution of all dissent. People are scared and shackled, the environment is oppressive and restless.
The picture is an interweaving of two lines of narratives. The first line tells us about the turbulent situation in society and the struggle against the regime of heroic partisans who are hiding in the surrounding forests, and who are secretly helped by many positive characters. The second line of the narrative is entirely devoted to the teenage girl Ophelia, namely her fantasies and dreams.
Many may be amazed that the magical world in which Ophelia lives can be so cruel. But this fictional reality of hers is repelled by a cruel reality. After watching the picture, no one will tell you that they saw a banal fantasy tale. If we compare the plot with dark fairy tales (for example, the work of Grimm), then the viewer will see a huge difference: in the film the director simply “savor” the terrible and bloody scenes, at a time when in many literary works the terrible moments pass “in passing” and are not so attention is drawn.
The film amazes and fascinates the viewer: a beautiful area, an old labyrinth, a dark dungeon and creepy creatures. Majestic Faun, Faceless – they look very natural and scary. Looking at these characters there is not even a hint of fake or “cheap”. All this is the result of the enormous work of make-up artists, costume designers and decorators, which has been qualitatively supplemented with successful computer graphics.
Incredibly, actor Doug Jones, who plays the Pale Man, spent four hours getting into a suit, in which he also had to breathe through the nostrils of the monster.
The inspiration for the creation of the picture del Toro drew from the gloomy canvases of Goya.
The plot of “Pan’s Labyrinth”
First, we see Ophelia die. But time goes back to show us how it was. The background tells about the princess Moanna, who fled from the underworld into the world of people and died in it. But her father decides to wait as long as it takes for his daughter’s soul to return home in a different guise, so he leaves many secret doors for her around the world.
A dreamy and shy teenage girl moves with her pregnant mother Carmen to the countryside – to her new husband, the cruel and domineering Captain Vidal. Vidal settled in an old mill and wages a fierce fight against the partisans. He does not need his stepdaughter at all, he only tolerates her, while waiting for his own son from Carmen to be born.
On the same evening, the fairy takes Ophelia into the labyrinth to Faun, where he talks about her origin and gives three tasks and a book. First, the girl rescues a giant old tree from a nasty toad and finds a key. She then infiltrates the Pale Man’s dungeon, but fails the task.
At this time, Vidal discovers doctors and Mercedes to help the partisans, and Carmen gives birth to a son and dies. Faun gives Ophelia one last chance – she needs to bring her little brother into the labyrinth at night. Everything is going as it should, but because of the raid, Vidal noticed her and followed. In the labyrinth, Faun wants to shed the blood of a newborn in order to open the gates to a magical land, but Ophelia flatly refuses. This became the most serious and difficult test in the film. Then the captain takes his son and shoots the girl. At the exit from the labyrinth, Vidal is killed by partisans, and Mercedes takes the boy.
Ophelia dies in the arms of Mercedes, but still ends up home – to her father.
Reality or Fiction?
Many disagree about what is real and what is fiction in the film. Of course, at first glance it seems that everything connected with Faun is unreal, but at the same time, many details from the fantastic narrative line fall into the “reality” shown to us:
- magic book with tasks
- mandrake root
- magic crayon
Guillermo del Toro himself in his interview also confirmed the “reality” of the fictional world.
Characters in the picture
The positive characters in the film play very sparingly (as if they are constantly hiding their feelings), but also heartfelt at the same time. This is easy to understand, because in times of lack of freedom, people tend to be constantly on the alert, to beware of everything, and it is extremely difficult and dangerous to behave naturally in such an environment.
The world of magic is as cruel as the real one. But Ophelia plays a key role in it and is not small and helpless. She herself determines her fate, takes it into her own hands. And in the wizarding world, even the creepy and cunning Faun looks less scary than the fascist Vidal.
At first, the viewer consciously sees two realities in the picture, but then they intertwine and it is no longer so easy to determine which world is real and which is through the looking glass. After all, all of a sudden all the fascist horror seen is just a bad dream?
Many critics have compared Pan’s Labyrinth to Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. But there is a huge difference between the works. If in “Alice” an experienced reader sees a subtle parody of the then way of life, then in “Labyrinth” it becomes clear that the story he sees is how a child perceives the world around him through the prism of his own feelings. Not wanting to put up with the harsh and cruel reality, the girl invents her own reality, unfortunately, just as cruel. Although in her reality, Ophelia at least decides her own destiny.
But the main thing is that in the fictional world her father is waiting for her, whom she so lacks in everyday life. Indeed, if Carmen’s husband was alive, he would have defended his family to the last, like any man.
You can see that the heroes of the picture are highly idealized, each has a special trait: valiant partisans with white collars (although they live in the forest!), A conscientious doctor, fearless Mercedes, obedient Carmen, a rebel Ophelia, a sadist and pedant Vidal.
The old labyrinth in the film acts as a connecting link between the two worlds; it personifies the search for truth, life trials, immortality.
Moral of the film
So many critics disagree about what the director really wanted to show. Either the main idea is an interpretation of reality by the child’s psyche, or the film is not at all an allegory, but a fantastic world, as real and tangible as ours. When Ophelia dies, does she end up in the Underworld, or is this just another hallucination? Each viewer must find his own answer to these questions.
If the film is considered a fairy tale, then it ends on a very happy note – the girl gets what she wanted so much. But if you perceive the picture as a reality, then the film will be quite difficult, cruel and sad for the viewer, with a very sad ending. One thing is for sure – no one will remain indifferent.