By John Peebles (Myrtle Beach, SC)
A movie where reality is only what we perceive it to be and a reminder of the horror that comes from the loss of innocence is the subject of Pan’s Labyrinth. Set in 1944 Spain, a 11-year-old girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is drawn to a labyrinth in the woods where she meets a mythical faun who claims that she is the reincarnation of an underworld princess. To reclaim her rightful place, she must complete three tasks while also living under the cruel tyranny of her stepfather while taking care of her pregnant mother. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro it stars Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, and Sergi López as the lead characters. The specific elements that were strong in the movie was the acts taken by Ofelia as she became more drawn into the fantasy world. Specially the second task, where she had to retrieve an item from the “Pale Man,” (Doug Jones) a horrific monster that brought to life the more fantastical elements of the movie.
By far the best character of the movie would be Mercedes (Maribel Verdú), a servant for Captain Vidal (Maribel Verdú) who not only takes cares of Ofelia in the absence of her mother but also strives to aid the rebels against the Captain. She is a strong character who has both an endearing side as seen with Ofelia but also an untamed fighting spirit as she fights the Captain behind his back and directly as the movie progresses. The strongest element of the movie would also be considered its weakest, which is the element of mystery that is wound through Ofelia’s quest. At first it seems clear that she is seeing mythical beings and going on these adventures but by the end of the movie we see that it was all in her head. This idea questions the power of imagination and the defense mechanisms used by children to deal with things that they are simply incapable of understanding at such a young age. This is escapism.
Ofelia losing herself into a fairy tale fantasy is complicated by the other story taking place of the war and rebels fighting around her. While it increases the need to escape, it only interferes with Ofelia’s quest leaving it underdeveloped. The problem arises with the structure of questioning how much of this is real is that there few hints or none at all that indicated to the audience whether or not any of this was real. Of course, one could assume that it was not real and only in the girl’s imagination but every time the audience began to wonder, the faun would reappear, and the questioning would continue. The hints given were obscure at best and easily brushed off or missed by the audience which is problematic if you wish to create the illusion that it is possibly real.
The ending leaves the audience wondering how much of it was real but not in a good way. The narrator’s unreliable words in no way creates a trust with the audience about whether or not what he said is true or even applies to Ofelia. Even the concept of a happy ending is played with during the conclusion which leaves questions about the movie without a sense of closure for the audience. I would say the audience of this film would be either history enthusiasts or those who enjoy a good war movie. At the end of the day this movie seems to revolve more around the battle then about the main character and her journey. If someone wanted to watch this for the fantasy elements, they would be disappointed, not because they turned out to be imaginary, but simply because they took a back seat to the secondary plot.
Overall, I found the movie disappointing. The fantasy aspect was circumvented by the Captain, Mercedes, and the war while Ofelia was left to meander her way through almost effortless tasks. The mystery element of the movie was poorly designed which makes me wonder if the movie would have been better if either it was all real and we were led to believe it was not or that we got a more straightforward answer at the end. Although the audience is supposed to be left questioning the reality of the movie, I can’t see why anyone would want to.