Pan’s Labyrinth: A Disobedient Fairy Tale
It’s okay to start with a spoiler the first shot we see her die. A few things about fairy tales as our source is Walt Disney while they are faithful to original books as Disney was smart, they kept their original storied tropes, Guillermo del Toro changes that notion as he makes us a fairy tale that truly is a true fairy tale in my eyes. No other film can lay claim to the mythological frisson of this famous quatrain as it’s a fairy tale that disobeys the rules of Disney fairy-tales. It’s Disobedience of fairy-tale notions as truly breaking the rules. Fairy tales are often stripped of their darkest and most threatening elements, or transformed into complex morality tales to mirror current values, the victim of an overprotective industry of children’s literature. This is not a new development. To make fairy tales more suitable for young audiences, editors in Victorian England altered the tales, omitting events or elements they deemed too harsh as old fairy-tales as they altered many of the classic grim tales. It’s where Pan’s Labyrinth takes you back to what made fairy-tales dark in the first place as his fairy-tale feels like how the original fairy-tales were darker tales. Pan’s Labyrinth remains a land-mark as today I talk about it for The Great Villain Blogathon. I thank the host of this wonderful event as i ask you check out others form this event. so lets begin the tale now.
Pan’s Labyrinth: A Disobedient Fairy Tale
Pan’s Labyrinth is a true fairy tales as it’s darker than most fairy-tales we grew up watching on the screen. Franco’s Spain was a perfect setting for a fairy-tale. The Spanish civil war is a dark time for the nation of Spain. Vidal’s monstrosity of Captain Vidal abhorrent cruelty in the war really shows you the darkest of villains that reminds of the big bad wolf or the wicked queens of fairy-tales. The two monsters of Pan’s Labyrinth, the Monstrous Toad and the Pale Man as they mirror the evils of many people in the real world of Franco’s Spain as you can see the grim and darkness of them both. The sad part that the Francoist dictatorship was the cruelest of times for the nation of Spain that they want to forget now as it’s a dark chapter of their storied history. It’s where I think the mirror of a fairy-tale is perfect setting for this dark time of history.
It is set in Spain, 1944. The Civil War is over, although resistance to the fascists continues. The heavily pregnant Carmen (Ariadna Gil) is travelling to meet her new husband, the Falangist Captain Vidal (an excellent performance by Sergi Lopez). With her is Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), her daughter by her first marriage. Ofelia travels with armfuls of books of fairy tales. Doctors think Carmen should not travel, but Vidal insists a son should be born where his father is located at the time.
If Captain Vidal is the “monster” of the real world, then the fantastical “Pale Man” is Vidal’s inner grotesque monster come to life. We are introduced to the Pale Man during Ofelia’s second task in the faun’s labyrinth as we meet him at dinner scene. It mirrors the scene of Captain Vidal as both are dark mirrors of each other as pale-man is the villainous monster that springs out of nightmares but is a mirror of the evil Captain Vidal.
Captain Vidal, Ofelia’s step-father is the film’s literal, real-life representative of fascist ideology as he serves as true mirror to Franco himself. Vidal is a man obsessed with rules and regiment: handshake etiquette, the cleanliness of his boots, and keeping time with his stopwatch. Vidal’s obsessions allude to Franco’s own authoritarianism and the totalitarian nature of his regime as the evils of the Franco regime is really noted in this movie. Captain Vidal becomes a foil and antagonistic villain for the innocent Ofelia as she is a sweet girl that escapes from reality into the world of Pan’s Labyrinth. Much like the Franco regime, Captain Vidal controls those around him through fear and violence rather than compassion. He is a rotten bastard that doesn’t care about others at all with any compassion or care. At the real-world dinner party, Vidal ruthlessly cuts off the nonsensical chatter that surrounds the dinner table.
The pale-man is Vidal’s inner grotesque monster as we see the dinner scene as Ofelia first encounters the Pale Man, he is positioned at the head of a large dining table that is covered with food as same as Vidal as his need for order and control Ofelia eats two grapes off of the table, the Pale Man viciously bites off the heads of two fairies as he shows that is the ruler with no one having freedom above him. If Captain Vidal and the Pale Man come to represent fascist rule, then Ofelia serves as a stand-in for the Spanish nation and those who suffered at the hands of the Franco regime as we see the ruthless nature of Captain Vidal as he kills the rebels in such ruthless manner it really shows his evil nature as Sergi Lopez proves he is one hell of a villain as he gives one of most amazing performances all time in this movie. Doug Jones plays the fawn as he got into the outfit often as truly this monster is amazing monster and creation for this movie. He gives out an amazing performance. The most amazing part of the movie is the amazing fairy-tale creatures that all come to life with mirroring scenes to many classics such as wizard of oz and the red shoes with scenes that mirror many classic fairy-tales. The ogre you meet in the movie is truly one of most scary monsters of its type as you are not meeting the friendly ogre but the real one form grim’s tales.
Ofelia is a fantastic protagonist. She is a girl you automatically want to protect from the horrors around her and that investment is where this film garners its strength from real and imagined evils of this movie. The heavy symbolism of this movie that notes down many grim classic fairy-tales with shades of Alice in wonderland and the red shoes scene at end. The faun seems to be both good and evil; what are we to make of a huge pile of used shoes, especially worrisome in the time of the Holocaust? The film is visually stunning. The creatures do not look like movie creations but like nightmares (especially the Pale Man, with eyes in the palms of his hands). The baroque organic look of the faun’s lair is unlike any place I have seen in the movies when the giant frog delivers up a crucial key in its stomach as something so moving and timeless about the creature-work of this movie. He invents from scratch, or adapts into his own vision a fairy-tale that is forever timeless. Del Toro says in a commentary that Ofelia is “a girl who needs to disobey anything except her own soul.” The whole movie, he says, is about choices. The powerful acting of everyone is another amazing highlight of this movie with amazing visuals and story-telling it’s something that is forever remembered upon for all time.
Guillermo Del Toro released what is arguably his masterpiece in 2006 as he described by the director as the most personal movie I’ve made”, it’s a wondrous merging of history – war-torn Spain, 1944 and fantasy as he weaved an adult fairytale of a young girl’s coming-of-age amid fascism, full of horror and hope, loaded with allusion and allegory. Here are just some of the numerous techniques and strategies Del Toro employs to make Pan’s Labyrinth such an unusually rich feast of visual storytelling that I feel truly is one of finest movies ever crafted for the screen.
Looks interesting! Thanks!
A superlative essay about a movie I adored. Many thanks for this: you’ve encouraged me to dig out my DVD for a Memorial Day rewatch! I think it’s my favorite of the Del Toro movies I’ve seen.
Can’t believe I haven’t seen this yet. Your insightful review will probably have a lot of people streaming it this weekend.
Thanks for joining the blogathon, and for bringing Pan’s Labyrinth with you!
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Fascinating entry on the history of fairy tales and this movie in particular. I was not familiar with this story until now. Thank you.
I first saw Pan’s Labyrinth at the Ragtag Cinema and I have loved it ever since. I think it captures the feel of fairy tales better than any movie ever made. And maybe it is just me, but I always thought Vidal was much more frightening than the Pale Man. After all, it is unlikely that I will ever encounter someone like the Pale Man in my life. On the other hand, men like Vidal are all too common.
I appreciate your post very much. I don’t often see new films as I’m stuck in the period from the silent through 1962 with a few exceptions😀! I’ve heard this is a masterwork form Del Toro, so I should check it out. Thanks!
I’ve heard about Pan’s Labyrinth for years, but I never had the slightest clue what it was about. Now that I do, you can bet I’ll be on the lookout for it. Thank you for contributing it to the blogathon!
Great movie to choose, love its fairy tale feel and the villains, fantastical and all too real…Really enjoyed reading your post, and thanks for joining the blogathon!