Pan’s Labyrinth, directed by the incredible Guillermo Del Toro, is one hell of an emotional ride, complete with scenes so gruesomely gory, it’ll have you cringing and moving nervously in your seat. Its plot and visuals are so complex, with old fairytales interwoven into its story (intertextual references), which is a postmodern collage technique used brilliantly by Del Toro. At the same time it has a sense of pure simplicity which draws viewers in even more. The visuals are breathtaking, the actors are skilled at evoking emotion, and the storyline is captivating.
First off, hats off to Guillermo Del Toro. He had an extraordinary vision and then gave it life. This man fought for his vision for Pan’s Labyrinth, and did not rest until he had complete control over this project. He is an auteur – he wrote, directed, and produced this film. He also designed the way all the magical creatures would look by sketching them all out beforehand.
“I gave back my entire salary in order to get the film made the way I wanted it. I probably should have abandoned it the moment the funding fell through the first time, but I stuck with it for almost two-and-a-half years and refused to back down. It’s the first time in the six movies I’ve directed where I’ve said: I’m doing this one my way, no matter what. Financiers ran out on me and everyone involved in my career was saying it was the biggest mistake I could make. But I’m very happy with the result. And for me, nothing will be the same again.” – Guillermo Del Toro
Pan’s Labyrinth has two narrative strands which are interwoven – fantasy and real life. The opening scenes, when closely observed, establish Ofelia as the protagonist. The very first scene is of Ofelia laying down, panting, incredibly injured and looking straight at the camera. As the camera zooms into Ofelia’s eye, we’ve already been told that we are experiencing this story from her perspective – through Ofelia’s eyes. However, as the narrator’s voice is of a male, we know we are being told this story from an omniscient figure. We are shown that this is a circular narrative, as the blood dripping from her nose suddenly starts to rise back up into her nostrils, hinting that we are going back in time to when the story first started to unfold.
The film is set in the fascist Spain of 1944, during the Spanish Civil War. When closely analyzed, this fairytale serves as a political protest. There is male/female dualism present, as all women are good, and all men are bad in this movie. This reveals that Del Toro views fascism as being a male evil. The captain is represented as entirely evil (in contrast with the protagonist Ofelia) and he demands extreme control over everything. The gag-inducing scene where the captain is seen repeatedly hammering the bottle into the innocent man’s face and the scene where the captain is revealed to have brutally tortured another innocent man to the point of unbearable excruciating injuries is not only done to show reality, but also for shock value and to state that “this man is evil” loud and clear. Through the use of the character of the captain and making him an extreme fascist figure, Del Toro sends a powerful message that fascism is evil.
The intertextual references include:
Little Red Riding Hood – straying off the path / Alice in Wonderland – Ofelia’s dress, going down a spiral / Snow White – stepfather instead of stepmother / Wizard of Oz – red shoes, meeting up with different creatures, wanting to see what’s behind the curtain / The Hobbit – moves more and more away from home, creating their own stories
Intertextual references in the “Pale Man” scene:
Cinderella – limited amount of time / The Hobbit – in the sleeping dragon’s lair / The Garden of Eden – the taking of food / Christ – the holes in the hands
Immortality doesn’t mean you live forever in this film. It means you become immune to death, and death no longer has any effect on your decisions or actions.
“Pan’s Labyrinth is a movie about a girl who gives birth to herself into the world she believes in. At that moment, it doesn’t matter if her body lives or dies.” – Guillermo Del Toro