In today’s society, fairytales are most commonly reserved for children. Our fascination for these incredible tales slowly dies out as we mature, and we replace our interests accordingly. Pan’s Labyrinth by Del Toro successfully brings fairytales back into the realm of adult cinema by combining horror and fantasy with the truthful drama of the Spanish Civil War.
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Pan’s Labyrinth tells a story of a little girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) who moves into the countryside with her pregnant mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil), to live with her stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez) who is a high-ranking official in the Spanish Army. Even though the remains of the war still there, Ofelia finds herself consumed by a far different world. Early in the film, she encounters a fairy-like creature, which leads her away from reality into the world of fantasy. This magical creature lures her to the labyrinth of the amazing character faun (Doug Jones) who is just as frightening as he is charming. The faun truly sets the story in motion by explaining to Ofelia that she is in fact a princess of a mysterious underworld that closely parallels the land of reality. In order for her to return home and become an immortal part of this unknown kingdom, she is required to complete three tasks, all of which are amazing and horrific. Through this process, Ofelia establishes herself as a loving and courageous character that wants nothing more than to leave her painful world behind.
Where one would normally find emotion, Vidal displays only drive and hatred. He is the perfect antagonist, in that he seeks only power and control, and will stop at absolutely nothing to get it. Vidal treats Ofelia’s mother, Carmen with chilly, humiliating decorum, making it clear that she is just a human incubator carrying what he is certain of is his “son.” Evidently a daughter would be unacceptable. Doctor Ferreiro, the physician in the military asks Vidal how can he be so sure about the gender of the child to which Vidal replies: “Don’t fuck with me.” In a later scene Vidal orders Ferreiro in front of his sedated wife: “If you have to chooseâ€¦save the baby. That boy will bear my name and my father’s name.” That shows us that Vidal cared only about the continuation of live and legacy through his son.
On the other hand, we have Ofelia, who’s loving and caring and loves to read fairy tales, although her mother disapproves of her reading and encourages her to stop. In the film, Carmen does not seem to be very interested in Ofelia’s interests, feelings, or her emotional well being, instead, she seems to be constantly thinking of ways to please Vidal, such as pressuring Ofelia to call him “father.” Later in the movie, it is revealed that Vidal was behind Carmen´s disapproval concerning Ofelia’s reading. Captain Vidal’s marriage to Ofelia’s mother means that her life will be very different, his relationship with Ofelia is very similar to the ‘wicked stepmother’ character to be found in Cinderella and other fairy tales. Ofelia has a love of fairytales, and this aids her wild imagination in creating a world filled with grotesque monsters to escape the horrors of everyday life in a fascist world.
Throughout the whole movie, Ofelia is the caretaker of her mother instead of her being taken care of. This is especially revealing in the shocking scene where the magic book runs red to warn Ofelia that her mother is hemorrhaging at that very moment. Ofelia opens the door and finds her mother covered in blood from her waist down, extending her arms to her and whispering: “Ofeliaâ€¦help me.” Ofelia also feels responsible for her baby brother. On the fantasy level, she sacrifices her life for him when she refuses to hand the baby to the faun. While Ofelia could have been perhaps resentful of her brother for, making her mother sick. Even though Ofelia takes care of her sickly mother she still feels lonelier than ever, isolated in a secluded, violent world. Nonetheless, Ofelia is left with no choice but to escape into her fantasy world and find surrogate figures that could emotionally support her through her identity quest. In the real world, that person is Mercedes, who takes the role of Ofelia’s surrogate mother. In her fantasy world, the surrogate father figure is the faun, who makes it clear that he is just a guide that could potentially connect her with her real father, the king, after she proves to be worthy of immortality by passing a series of tests.
Guillermo Del Toro establishes his ability to captivate an audience in a number of different ways with this film. Possibly the most striking is the visual element. The rich, vibrant color and dreamlike lighting attract immediate attention. Everywhere the audience is taken is dazzlingly surreal. Even from the very beginning, Ofelia’s surroundings are bathed in a fantastic warm glow, unlike anything reality has to offer. This clearly sets the stage for her fairytale journey to come. On the other hand, Vidal is commonly cast in a dark, gloomy light that accentuates his role as the villain.
For the duration of the movie, surprisingly Ofelia displays actions of courage throughout her tasks she is assigned from the faun. Ofelia shows a sense of control as we see she is able to participate and achieve goals without any fear and second thoughts. This stands in sharp contrast to her other reality where she is told what to do. The first task is fairly simplistic. For her second task, the faun gives her a piece of chalk to create a door into a world with only limited time where she must retrieve a gold dagger in the wall of pale mans cave, while he is sitting at the head of a table in front of an enormous feast. With the help of a few fairies, Ofelia gets the dagger but ignores the warning of the faun and the fairies, and eats a couple of grapes that awakes the pale man in which she barely escapes with her life. In my opinion, this is the most captivating and cryptic scene in the film because of its symbolic load. No dialogue is needed the images speak for themselves. The episode contains all the elements of a nightmare in which Ofelia is confronted with the fear of being consumed. The pale man and Vidal are a reflection of each other. He is only able to see with the eyes his hands provide him with, telling us that he sees the physical and nothing beyond it.
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As the film reaches its best moment, Ofelia is about to take the faun’s third and final task while rebel forces are in the forest, getting organized with reinforcements to begin an assault on the Captain’s headquarters. As the Captain struggles to suppress the rebellion movement, Ofelia carries out the third task, bringing her recently born brother to the labyrinth that links the real world directly to the fairy world.
One might argue that Ofelia’s fantasies are a form of rebellion, a childish version of Mercedes’ rebellion. Both Ofelia and Mercedes refuse to live in the Captain’s world, one by escaping into her dreams, and the other by joining the rebels. And yet Ofelia’s form of rebellion seems ultimately useless.
Pan’s Labyrinth uses a special type of fantasy world. The main character, Ofelia, travels to a different dimension seeking a better life. In the beginning of the movie she was feeling betrayed and lonely. While watching the movie, we become responsive of how life always seems to be better for Ofelia in her fantasy world. The direction of the plot shifts from fantasy to reality over and over again with great fluidity. The reason that fantasy and reality are so different in this movie is to show how fantasy is viewed as a better world than that of reality. In a fantasy world, anything can happen, and mostly good things occur. In reality, bad things are seen more often and struggles seem harder to overcome. So in this movie, Ofelia overcomes her struggles in the fantasy world, which makes us prefer fantasy to reality and keeps them interested.
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