Watching Pan’s Labyrinth the thing that catches your fancy the most is how a children fantasy and a horrific war are intermingled as a matter of fact thing without ever burdening one thing with the other and also never losing anyone’s relevance. Guillermo del Toro here takes his craft another level up from where he left in The Devil’s Backbone. The plot here moves in two directions, on one side there is a fantastic ancient fantasy unfolding and on the other side is a local resistance in a countryside against a fascist regiment with the setting taking place in Spanish Civil war. Unlike The Devil’s Backbone both the plots here are unrelated(though not altogether) to each other saving a character Ofilia who is central to both and is totally immersed in her fantasy world quite oblivious of the war.
Ofilia is a 11 year old girl who loves reading fantasy stories and moves with a pile of books with her, who arrives with her pregnant mother at a countryside place where her step father Captain Vidal, a ruthless fascist, is trying to crush local resistance. There Ofelia meets a fairy which leads her to an ancient labyrinth and then to a Faun who recognizes her as Princess Moanna, heiress of an underground world where her father and her kingdom waits for her. But in order to return there she will be required to perform three difficult tasks. The Faun then presents her a book and her adventurous journey begins.
The movie scores heavily in the alluring and spellbinding fantasy world that it creates. All the fantasy characters are amazingly original and awe inspiring. Be it The goat faced Faun, The Pale man, The mandrake root or The giant toad, all the creatures here marvel with finest detail and enticing charm.
The enchanting fantasy world is evenly matched with the brutally gruesome war. Captain Vidal here is a perfect personification of fascism. Some scenes there actually are quite unwatchable as far children are concerned. There’s a scene in which Vidal uses a bottle and ruthlessly plains out the elevation of a man’s nose. In another scene after his mouth had been slit open he stitches it up and then applies a bandage, and then takes a shot of brand only to get his bandage wet first with alcohol and then blood.
One of the most important theme of Toro’s work(Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone) is parallel portrayal of the fear of real and the unreal(fantasies , stories, metaphors et al.). And how fear inflicted by real life situations is much more grotesque than the unreal and how embracing the unreal makes us more stronger to face the reality. It just here some how reminds me of few lines from Kafka on the Shore- Haruki Murakami, which go as :
“At any rate you and your story are throwing a stone at a target that’s very far away. Do you understand that?”
I nod.” i know. But metaphors can reduce the distance”
“We’re not metaphors.”
“I know,” I say. “But metaphors help eliminate what separates you and me.”
A faint smile comes to her as she looks up at me. “That’s the oddest pickup line I’ve ever heard.”
“There’re a lot of odd things going on—but I feel like I’m slowly getting closer to the truth.”
“Actually getting closer to a metaphorical truth? Or metaphorically getting closer to an actual truth? Or maybe they supplement each other?”
Cutting it short here Pan’s Labyrinth is a great work of cinema both cinematically as well as in relation to the themes it carries. A must watch.
See the movie site here and catch here a post on mine on The Devil’s Backbone.