Pan's Labyrinth Film Analysis: Political Message Behind the Movie

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Introduction

I have chosen to watch and discuss the film ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ (2006) directed and written by Guillermo del Toro. I have chosen this particular film as it reflects upon Franco’s Spain and the Civil War that took place alongside. ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ was the first film for which the Mexican director, Guillermo del Toro, was recognised internationally as a filmmaker. I see this as a revolutionary step as this fairy-tale like film intertwined both aspects of storytelling and past historical events in a likeable way which grew in popularity in the English-speaking world. The film’s success and popularity are further enhanced by its ability to win three Oscars in 2007 for Cinematography, Art Direction, and Makeup.[1]

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Description

The young heroine, Ofelia, is forced to move out of the city with her heavily pregnant mother into a woodland covered village controlled by Vidal, who’s always seen to be wearing his formal general’s suit. Vidal’s image is mirroring the Fascist regime, the whole village is under strict control. This is particularly evident in the scene where the common folk are collecting their rations of food and supplies. One of the soldiers (Figure 1.2) can be seen several times shouting, ‘This is our daily bread in Franco’s Spain, kept safe in this mill. The Reds lie because in a united Spain there’s not a single home without fire or bread.’[2] This echoes the Lord’s Prayer, creating a comparison between Vidal and God, as if people should be glad that they received their daily bread in Franco’s Spain. On the other hand, Ofelia is resistant in accepting Vidal as her father, she is the representation of the Maquis, the resistance fighters against Franco’s regime. Ofelia escapes the brutality of real life by immersing herself in the forest which is full of mythical creatures, and by doing dangerous tasks that could kill her, yet she doesn’t give and fights for what she believes in. This is truly evident in the last scene where Ofelia is commanded by the Faun to sacrifice her young brother’s blood, but refuses profoundly, this portrays Ofelia’s purity and morality which is in direct contrast with Vidal’s sick and twisted actions, such as killing an innocent rabbit hunter with a glass bottle due to preconceived notions of his political preference. His actions are cruel, and they derive from his inner impulses rather than collective ideologies. Vidal’s consciousness in many scenes seems to centre on his cigarette, which he returns to obsessively, as if through its tube he is inhaling the venom that enables him to carry on.

Analysis

The story of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ takes place exclusively in a secluded countryside village surrounded by a lush forest. At a first glance the forest seems tranquil, yet it provides a sense of claustrophobia and isolation which suggests a feeling a being trapped under the Franco regime for the three-female characters; Ofelia, Mercedes the maid, and Carmen who is Ofelia’s mother. We can see that both Mercedes and Carmen are two different alter reflections of Ofelia. Carmen has succumbed under Vidal’s rule, while Mercedes is silently disobeying his ruling by helping out with the resistance. On the other side, the trees provide protection for the Maquis to carry out their work against the Franco supporters. The forest acts like an iron curtain between Franco’s Spain and the outer world, the only connection is the railway track which symbolises a one-way communication method which lack of understanding between both parties. For Ofelia herself, the forest is a mystical place, a place of renaissance as she engages in several quests in order to recover her past and strive for her perfection as a princess. This replicates the forgetting of memories of the Spanish Civil War (Pacto de Olvido) in which war crimes were to be forgotten about, but as democracy flourished, more action was taken place to remember those who suffered as a consequence of being on the losing side.[3] Ultimately, Ofelia is on the losing side as she gets murdered by Vidal, but in the end she gets reunited with her beloved mother and her biological father in a mystical kingdom. She successfully recovered her past memories of being a princess. On the other hand, her baby half-brother will never find out who his biological father was, as he was a heartless tyrant.

One of Ofelia’s tasks is to recover a dagger from a dining room which is guarded by a grotesque monster who can only see with his hands which contain his removable eyes. This personalises Vidal’s actions as he acts impulsively, without thought, as if he’s eyes were distant from his mind. This selective tunnel vision enables the monster to seek instant gratification, which is the death of the enemies to the regime. The Faun warns Ofelia that she must not eat anything from the buffet table in the monster’s grotto, otherwise she will wilt into her own dismay. This dining atmosphere in the monster’s cavern imitates the formal dinner that Ofelia is missing with Vidal and his supporters. This subtle political comment is a dark-underbelly for Ofelia’s own will power in order to prevent her giving into Vidal’s trap and ultimately become a tyrant just like him, or more accurately like the terrifying pale human-like monster who sits at the table waiting for its next victim.

Evaluation

The “Pact of forgetting” is questionable to many Spanish people as it did result in a change to a democratic republic, but at the cost of ignoring the past history.[4] Yet, Hispanic cinema has not forgotten the historic struggles. It has a fresh style of revisiting the time of war. The vast array of mystical creature, including the faun, provide us with a metaphor for the multiple moral pathways available to Ofelia on her journey for the recovery of her memories. The film has an ability to surprise its audience with its violent scenes, mostly brought up by Vidal and his troops. This creates a stark contrast with the innocent mind of Ofelia and her quest to recover her past life as a princess.

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