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Pan's Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro's critically acclaimed 2006 dark fantasy film.

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What Happens When the Escape is a Bad as Reality

  • Dec 28, 2008
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The Bottom Line: See Pan’s Labyrinth!         

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.

We all need to escape the bitter entrails of reality from time-to-time, which is one of the reasons we watch movies, read books, etc.  Children, with their whimsical natures, sense of adventure and need to explore, find more inventive ways to escape the sometimes harsh world in which they find themselves trapped, oft-times not of their own accord. 

Magic and the arcane are still very much a part of their worlds; life has yet to beat the adult view of the things into their souls.   But what happens if your form of escapism is on par with the real world, if it is so terrible and ugly, that it offers no real escape from the world in which you already live?  

That is just one of themes of Pan's Labyrinth (2006), which on the surface might appear to be a children's story akin to the fairy tales of old, however the many messages the movie conveys are meant for those with considerable age and understanding.      
The Story

Written and directed by Mexican-born Guillermo Del Toro (Minic, Blade II, Hellboy) Pan's Labyrinth is set in the Spanish countryside in 1944 where the wounds inflicted by the brutal Spanish Civil War are still freshly bleeding.  Spain is not officially a part of WWII, but Francisco Franco openly provided material support for the Axis cause, while Communism and what it represents are still very much despised; old animosities have always found fertile soil in the human heart!

Into this political and cultural backdrop lands fatherless young Ofélia (Ivana Baquero) is brought to the country outpost of her pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) new husband, the fascist Captain Vidal (Sergi López), who at the moment is passionately, and heartlessly engaged in uprooting the last remnants of a guerrilla force hidden in the surrounding forest with a garrison of about 40 men.          

Young Ofélia and the Captain take an instant disliking to each other, a relationship that will help shape the movie's more violent turns.  Meanwhile, the child's mother is confined to a wheelchair and bed in order to protect the Captain's unborn son. 

In order to cope with her strange new surrounding Ofélia retreats into a world filled with large locust-like creatures that turn into fairies, one of which she follows into a ancient nearby labyrinth.  Once inside, Ofélia meets the forest spirit Fauno (Doug Jones), who gives her three tasks each involving some hideous creature including a giant greedy toad, and the horrific Pale Man (who holds his eyes in palms of his hands and devours children).  The last task involves Ofélia's unborn brother and the shedding of innocent blood.  

Meanwhile outside this world inside Ofélia's mind, a more sinister and real monster lurks, torturing and murdering anyone who stands in the way of his political ideas and duty.

But, the good Captain Vidal has a mole in his household, his head housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdú) and the garrison doctor (Alex Angulo), are both secretly helping the resistance, at the head of which is Mercedes' brother Pedro (Roger Casamajor).  

My Thoughts

Pan's Labyrinth
is at once violent and gentle, innocent and horrific, engaging and repulsive.  Through a glass darkly does Ofélia view the conflict unfolding around her like some living nightmare only to retreat into a world where the landscape is just as dark, but therein she has purpose and her suffering meaning and an eventful happy outcome.    

But, Del Toro weaved another meaning into the blood stained frames of his movie and that is strength can be defeated by (perceived) weakness if intellect and cunning are used in good measure to overcome it.  Here, Captain Vidal is warned that there may be a traitor in household, but his mind never wanders in Mercedes direction, for how could she a mere housekeeper and a woman dare defy him, or have the wits to carry out the subversive task?   

Del Toro has always been associated with horror from Mimic to Blade 2 to Hellboy, but even Pan's Labyrinth has more than its fair share of the grotesquerie, the brutal, the highly the fantastic.  In Pan's Labyrinth, Del Toro unleashed his all too fertile imagination and created a world unbounded by the usual (movie) genre boundaries; the movie is a children's fantasy, but it isn't; it is an adult parable, but not quite; it is historical drama, but not told in the usual way. 

The performances throughout this wonderful film were suburb-especially Lopez as the face of clean-shaven horror with a gun and beer bottle.   The transitions from reality to fantasy and back again were seamless and I after a while the two blended together seamlessly until I had to wonder if Ofélia's world was indeed real. 
Pan's Labyrinth takes place where no movie before it has (save perhaps Sin City), where magic and the absurdly real travel the same very human road, where Labyrinth (1986 - Jennifer Connelly) meets Irreversible (2002 - Monica Bellucci).  The affect is engaging and repulsive, but ultimately very entertaining and enlightening.

See Pan's Labyrinth!


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

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More Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto ... reviews
review by . November 06, 2009
Alice in Wonderland is one of the most beloved stories of our time, It tells of a young girl who falls down a rabbit hole and get's transported to another world where strange creatures rule and the possibilities of magic and adventure are endless. But it's been nearly 144 years since that story first appeared and ever since then film makers have been trying to tell the story a different way for years, But thanks to Guillermo del Toro we have the greatest spin off of all, El Laberinto del Fauno, …
Quick Tip by . June 10, 2010
Visually stunning; interesting plot
Quick Tip by . June 02, 2010
So, so, so, so CREEPY! I hated the main dude. I was Terrified. *shudders*
review by . December 03, 2009
posted in Reel Overseas
The fantasy genre doesn't lend itself well to movies, for whatever reason. Before this decade, fantasy films were much more likely to end up on MST3K or, at best, in a "Most Nostalgic Kids Films of the 80's" list.       Perhaps it's the Spanish-language tendency towards "magical realism" instead of the English-language trend towards Tolkein and Dungeons & Dragons, but Pan's Labyrinth shatters those expectations almost immediately, by melding a little girl's …
review by . September 24, 2009
   Very compelling tale of a young girl who is forced with her sickly and ready to conceive mother, to live with her cruel father in the 1930’s war torn Spanish countryside.  Her father is El Capitan of a military force seeking out rebels against the government.  He loves to torture and brutally murder anybody he catches, whether they are rebels or not (warning: some of the scenes are so graphic that they are difficult to watch if you have a weak stomach).  The girl’s …
review by . November 21, 2009
     Pan's Labyrinth takes place in Spain in May and June, 1944, after the Spanish civil war, during the Franquist repression. Also present is the main character Ofelia's fantasy world which centers around an overgrown abandoned labyrinth. Ofelia's stepfather, the Falangist Captain Vidal, viciously hunts the Spanish Maquis, guerrillas who fight against the Franco regime in the region, while Ofelia's pregnant mother grows increasingly ill. Ofelia meets several strange and magical …
review by . May 15, 2009
Centering around a lonely 12-year old girl named Ofelia with a sickly preger mother, a sadistically cruel stepfather, and a kindly handmaiden--Ofelia escapes into a fairytale world of her imagination. Guided by a fairy she discovers an ancient, crumbling labyrinth guarded by a faun who discloses her true destiny--she is Princess Moanna--but to prove herself she must complete three increasingly challenging and dangerous tasks; The tasks have to be completed before the full moon.     The …
review by . May 21, 2009
It is 1944, and 12-year old Ofelia and her mother are going to a military outpost in the Spanish countryside to live with her new stepfather, a sadistic army captain.   There, Ofelia discovers an old stone maze that leads to an underground world of fairies and adventures while above ground, the captain is closing in on a rag-tag band of insurgents.     This remarkable movie is alternately beautiful and grotesque, cruel and fantastic.  Ofelia's …
Quick Tip by . November 06, 2009
Really amazing film. Extremely thought provoking & beautifully shot. Made me feel like a child again even though it's not a childrens film.
review by . March 21, 2009
Very compelling tale of a young girl who is forced with her sickly and ready to conceive mother, to live with her cruel father in the 1930's war torn Spanish countryside. Her father is El Capitan of a military force seeking out rebels against the government. He loves to torture and brutally murder anybody he catches, whether they are rebels or not (warning: some of the scenes are so graphic that they are difficult to watch if you have a weak stomach). The girl's means of blocking out all this cruelty …
About the reviewer
Vincent Martin ()
Ranked #77
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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About this movie


Inspired by the Brothers Grimm, Jorge Luis Borges, and Guillermo del Toro's own unlimited imagination,Pan's Labyrinthis a fairytale for adults. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) may only be 12, but the worlds she inhabits, both above and below ground, are dark as anything del Toro has conjured. Set in rural Spain, circa 1944, Ofelia and her widowed mother, Carmen (Ariadna Gil,Belle Epoque), have just moved into an abandoned mill with Carmen's new husband, Captain Vidal (Sergi López,With a Friend like Harry). Carmen is pregnant with his son. Other than her sickly mother and kindly housekeeper Mercedes (Maribel Verdú,Y Tu Mamá También), the dreamy Ofelia is on her own. Vidal, an exceedingly cruel man, couldn't be bothered. He has informers to torture. Ofelia soon finds that an entire universe exists below the mill. Her guide is the persuasive Faun (Doug Jones,Mimic). As her mother grows weaker, Ofelia spends more and more time in the satyr's labyrinth. He offers to help her out of her predicament if she'll complete three treacherous tasks. Ofelia is willing to try, but does this alternate reality really exist or is it all in her head? Del Toro leaves that up to the viewer to decide in a beautiful, yet brutal twin toThe Devil's Backbone, which was also haunted by the ghost of Franco. Though it lacks the humor ofHellboy,Pan's Labyrinthrepresents Guillermo Del Toro at the top of his considerable game.--Kathleen C. Fennessy
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