No 132 – El Labirinto Del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth)
Director – Guillermo Del Toro
‘Adult fairytale’ is a term which gets bandied around a lot and which rarely really delivers. The book of ‘Stardust’ had some wonderful dark elements which leant towards the adult side. A lot of those dark moments were polished out or presented with humour in the film, making it a more child friendly experience.
Pan’s Labyrinth doesn’t pretend to be a child friendly experience in any way. In fact, it can’t even be easily described as a friendly full stop. This is a tale in which the protagonist, a young girl called Ofelia in Civil war torn Spain, escapes to a fantasy in which the horrors aren’t quite as monstrous as the horrors of the real world.
This is dark.
Del Toro’s real skill is to take that darkness and make it something beautiful. He has a wonderful style which takes the fantasy world and then plants it in a rustic crumbling realism. He wears down the glitz and the glitter. He makes it more realistic. But he keeps it fantastic. He can present horrific concepts in hypnotic ways.
Watch the blood droplets float and swirl around the ghost in The Devil’s Backbone or the sinister madness of the Troll Market in Hellboy 2 – It shows a very distinctive style and a sense of realism (helped by his loyal use of animatronics and puppets). He shows us that the fantasy world is still there, grounded within ours.
The iconic fantasy characters in Pan’s Labyrinth are both played by Doug Jones – A Del Toro regular who I wouldn’t recognise in the streets. Here he plays both the faun and the pale man.
At no point in the film does the faun say that he is Pan, Greek God of shepherds, and symbol of spring. He has gone by many names, one of which MAY be Pan (After all Pan is a faun) but it is never all out said.
The faun has an interesting journey. He begins stony and grey, moss growing off of him, decrepit and creaking with a long white beard. He is lurking in the shadows and has become part of the wall. As the film goes on he becomes younger and sprightlier, more passionate and more colourful. Ofelia’s journey and her belief of the world seem to strengthen him - as if he is directly linked to her toughts.
He is also oddly ominous. As the hero’s guide you’d expect him to be at least a bit friendly or compassionate. But no, he growls and shouts and bellows. He leers and he creeps. He is just a very unsettling character. But he is the only hope Ofelia has as she sets about her tasks.
The Pale Man
One of her tasks involves robbing from the Pale Man. A tall, skinny, naked figure with saggy folds of bright white skin and no eyes in his head. Just one in the palm of each hand.
On paper, he is terrifying and there are some truly chilling unexplained touches to his palace, mainly the pile of discarded children’s shoes. However, there is nothing all that frightening about THIS. It looks ridiculous and it makes me chuckle.
When he runs down corridors and holds his hands out to look round corners, you realise what a cold and creepy character he is. When he sticks his hands to his face, he is just a bit stupid.
I could understand why people think that Pan’s Labyrinth is about Ofelia’s journey through puberty to adulthood. After all, SPOILER WARNING she has to bleed to open to portal and enter her ideal world – whilst that is hardly as obvious as Innocence, it is still a strong connotation. It is also there with the characters in Ofelia’s fantasy:
The faun is a deeply sexual character. Despite not actually doing anything all out sexual, he is a figure who emanates a sexual threat. It is suggested in his movements. It is quite heavily suggested by the leer like look he gives as he embraces Ofelia. Not to mention that Fauns and Satyrs are the symbols of Spring, of fertility.
Meanwhile the Pale Man is the death of childhood. His home is all about killing children, from the garish paintings to aforementioned shoe pile. His mission is all about overcoming the temptation of the sumptuous feast.
It seems like an apt conclusion that in that scene, Ofelia comes face to face with the death of her childhood and must now begin to resist the temptations of adulthood.
Even the advertising kind of screams “HEY THIS IS ABOUT PUBERTY Y’ALL”.
However, my only query is that the one time Ovary imagery is used within the film, it is in respect to birth (well miscarriage) – could it be that Ofelia is being born out of the tree and into her princess life in the artwork rather than facing her womanhood.
Or am I being utterly pretentious and actually it is just a girl facing a tree that happens to look like a uterus.
Which leads me neatly to the true cunt in this film (sorry – that link was too good to fall by the wayside solely on the risk of causing offense).
Whilst the Pale Man or the giant exploding frog may be scary and gross. They are nowhere near as terrifying as the Captain. His scenes flutter between the undercurrents of menace in his day to day life through to scenes of horrific brutality (the rabbit catching scene is a particularly shocking example). He is more horrible than anything the faun can thrust at Ofelia. He is true evil.
His existence symbol is a shocking visual realisation that I know nothing of what happened in the world during WWII. It was genuinely unpleasant for everyone.
However throughout all these horrors there is a sort of happy ending. We can only hope that SPOILER WARNING Ofelia’s visions of the endless golden palace are real, and not just the deluded hopeful grasps of a dying mind.
Because that would break my heart.