Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish film “Pan’s Labyrinth” is considered as one of the profound modern day fantasy classic, in its absolute stunning visuals, exceptionally well-crafted tale that skillfully mixes contrasting genres, where the metaphors are so dense that remind us the nifty side of the human perspective of myths, legends and fairy tales in its timeless journey unfolds through an eye of a small little girl.
The title “Pan’s Labyrinth” translated as The Labyrinth of the Faun in English is originally associated as the fictitious and rustic forest god in its appearance of half human and half goat, being the natural animal spirits that would help or hinder humans at whim. Romans believed fauns inspired fear in men traveling in lonely, remote or wild places. They were also capable of guiding humans in need. Del Toro perfectly characterized the story to the fairy tale and horror by a strong connection infusing visual and poetic beauty. I’m sure his fascination with monsters, which he considers symbols of great power and also for his use of insectile and religious imagery, into the themes celebrating imperfection of myths, fantasy and legacy blends in this classy theme. Del Toro also expressed his fetish for the Frankenstein movies and his inspiration always been the ‘Nosferatu’
This movie which was made in 2006 took shape in the imagination of Guillermo del Toro as long ago as 1993, when he began to sketch ideas and images in the notebooks he always carries. The Mexican director retorted sturdily to the horror prowling under the surface of fairy tales and for long had no interest in making a children’s film, but instead a film that looked horror straight in the eye. He also rejected some of the clichéd concepts and philosophies of movie fantasy. So closely a decade later he created the character of faun, a frog and a horrible Pale Man whose skin hangs in folds from his unwholesome body and a child all together in its marvel story telling in his natural comprehending way
The story takes place in Spain in the early summer of 1944, five years after the Spanish Civil War, during the early Francoist period. Pan’s Labyrinth unfolds through the eyes of Ofelia, a dreamy little girl who is uprooted to a rural military outpost in Fascist-ruled Spain commanded by her new stepfather Falangist Captain Vidal who hunts the Spanish Maquis who fight against the Francoist regime in the region and her mother is increasingly ill. This conflicts Ofelia as powerless and lonely in a place of unfathomable cruelty, lives out her own dark fable as she confronts monsters both otherworldly and human.
Just as story evolve, a large stick insect, which Ofelia believes to be a fairy, leads her into an ancient labyrinth (maze like structure). Here she is stopped by Mercedes, Vidal’s housekeeper, who is spying for the rebels. That night, the insect appears again in Ofelia’s bedroom, where it becomes a fairy and leads her through the labyrinth. There, she meets the faun, who believes her to be Princess Moanna and gives her three tasks to complete before the full moon to acquire immortality. Meanwhile, Vidal murders two individuals detained (incorrectly) on suspicion of cooperation with the rebels.
Ofelia completes the first task of retrieving a key from the belly of a giant toad, but becomes worried about her mother, whose condition is worsening. The faun gives Ofelia a mandrake root, which cures Carmen’s illness and soothes her pain. Accompanied by three fairy guides-Ofelia then completes the second task of retrieving an ornate dagger from the lair of the Pale Man, a child-eating monster who sits silently in front of a large feast. Although she was gravely warned not to consume anything, she eats two grapes, awakening the Pale Man. He eats two of the fairies and chases Ofelia, but she manages to escape. Infuriated at her disobedience, the faun refuses to give Ofelia the third task.
The scene then shifts to Captain Vidal, who tortures the captive rebel, and then kills the doctor and a rebel collaborator. Followed, Captain Vidal clips Ofelia tending to the mandrake root. Carmen throws it into the fire, where it struggles and screams in agony. Carmen immediately develops painful contractions and dies giving birth to a son. Vidal discovers that Mercedes is a spy. Ofelia is locked in her bedroom, and Mercedes is taken to be tortured; though she frees herself, injures Vidal, and rejoins the rebels.
We see faun making the comeback to Ofelia and tells her to take her baby brother into the labyrinth. Ofelia steals the baby after sedating Vidal, who pursues her through the labyrinth while the rebels successfully attack the mill at which he is stationed. The faun tells Ofelia to open the portal to the underworld by sacrifice of her brother’s blood, but Ofelia refuses to harm her brother; for further disobeying his orders, the faun leaves Ofelia to her fate.
Caption Vidal reaches the labyrinth, only to find Ofelia talking to thin air, showing that the faun is only visible to Ofelia. He picks the baby from her arms and kills her. He’s then captured by rebels on leaving the labyrinth. He calmly hands over baby to Mercedes knowing that he will die; demanding her to tell his time of the death to his son, and soon Vidal is killed by Mercedes’s brother. Mercedes then enters the labyrinth and comforts the dying girl, drops of Ofelia’s blood spill onto the adjacent altar, and Ofelia appears in a golden throne room. The king of the underworld explains that the last test was a trick, to ensure that Ofelia would sooner spill her own blood over that of an innocent. The queen of the underworld, her mother, invites Ofelia to sit by her father and rule at his side. The scene then cuts back to the labyrinth, where Ofelia, smiling, passes away above the altar. The epilogue completes the tale of Princess Moanna, stating that she ruled wisely and left quiet traces of her time on earth.
The film was shot in a Scots Pine forest situated in the Guadarrama mountain range, Central Spain. Guillermo Navarro, the director of photography, said that “after doing work in Hollywood on other movies and with other directors, working in our original language in different scenery brings me back to the original reasons I wanted to make movies, which is basically to tell stories with complete freedom and to let the visuals really contribute to the telling of the story”.
Pan’s Labyrinth is surely Del Toro’s magnum opus with so much impact and intensity, and such an abundance of visual imagination and I’m sure had flattered their genres. It also came as a surprise that Del Torro himself described the movie as a ‘parable’ and the numerous references to occult mysteries certainly point this way. Like many fairy tales, is symbolic and has vivid interpretations of psychological, sociological and political reminiscence of modern day. Largely this movie is an experience of sorts and appears differently every time you view and fit of esoteric initiation, so beautiful and so very disturbing.
- Produced & Directed by Guillermo del Toro
- Co-Produced by Alfonso Cuarón; Bertha Navarro; Frida Torresblanco & Alvaro Augustin
- Written by Guillermo del Toro
- Casting: Ivana Baquero;Sergi López; Maribel Verdú; Doug Jones; Ariadna Gil & Álex Angulo
- Narrated by Pablo Adán
- Music by Javier Navarrete
- Cinematography by Guillermo Navarro
- Edited by Bernat Vilaplana
- Production Company: Tequila Gang; Estudios Picasso;Telecinco Cinema;Sententia Entertainment & Esperanto Filmoj
- Distributed by Warner Bros & Picture House
- Release dates:27 May 2006 (Cannes)
- Run time of 119 minutes
- Country: Mexico & Spain
- Language: Spanish