Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Fantasy vs. Reality in Pan's Labyrinth

"When I was little I believed in faeries. I believed in a lot of things I don't anymore."
-Mercedes [Pan's Labyrinth]
Pan's Labyrinth is currently sitting comfortably near the top of my list of favorite movies. It's a beautiful film with awesome cinematography, music, costumes and makeup- okay, pretty much everything is awesome.
Pan's Labyrinth is one of those movies that just sits with you, and you can't let it go because there's too much to think about, and I love the kind of movie that doesn't leave you.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Pan's Labyrinth (though this post is going to be spoiler filled, just so you know), it's the story of a 12 year old girl during the Spanish Civil war who must complete three tasks to prove she's the long-lost princess of the underworld. Now, when they say 'underworld' in this, it is meant in the traditional Greek sense, just a place where all the dead go (I'm not even sure if it's that, or just a name for a non-specific magical realm). They do not mean underworld in the Christian sense, otherwise known as Hell. (and the Faun is supposed to be like the mythical creature, not Satan. Goat horns do not equal Prince of Lies.).

However, whether or not the magic elements are real or not is actually ambigous. I'm going to talk about both points of view of the movie and 'analyze' them. Inasmuch as I can analyze anything.

The Non-Magical Point of View
Towards the end of the film, Ofelia is talking to the Faun at the entrance of the underworld. Her cruel step-father comes up from behind her, and the camera is showing us what he sees. That is- Ofelia holding her baby brother and talking to... Nobody.

This seems to indicate that the whole movie is either a fantasy created by a stressed out little girl, or the crazed delusions of an insane little girl. It does seem plausible. Let's take a look at the tasks.

The first task is to retrive a key from a giant frog that lives inside the roots of a giant tree. The faun tells Ofelia that the frog is siphoning away the life of the tree. This sounds vaugely similar to how Ofelia's Mother's pregnancy is slowly killing her. Ofelia loves her mother very much, and is suffering conflicted feelings about her brother (at least for the moment...).

The second task is to brave the Pale Man and retrive a dagger from his room. The Pale man's room has a table just brimming with all sorts of delicious looking food. This is after Ofelia is sent to bed with no dinner- so she's probably really hungy.

You can kind of see how the magical elements mirror what's going on in Ofelia's life at the moment. It almost makes sense, except for a few things.

The Magical Point of View
First of all, there's the Mandrake. When Ofelia tells The Faun about her mother's illness, he gives her a Mandrake Root to put under her bed. When Ofelia does that, her Mother's condition improves significantly. When her step-father finds it and throws it into the fire, her Mother's condition grows worse and worse until she dies during premature delievery.

Then there's also the Chalk Door. At one point, Ofelia is locked in her room with a guard at the door. However- she is shown drawing an outline of a door on the wall with the magic chalk the Faun gave her. Later, Mercedes and some others burst into the room to see if she's still there. What do they find? No Ofelia, and the chalk outline of a door on the wall, that's what. And this is in a room where the windows are too small for even a kid to slide out of!

That... doesn't add up. Looking at this movie through a non-magical point of view is very interesting and almost works, but in the end doesn't.

"But Monica!" cry ye skeptics, "What about her stepfather! He didn't see the Faun! That proves that the whole thing is a fantasy!"

Yes. The fact that Ofelia's stepfather didn't see the Faun opens the door for alternate interpretation of the film. But! Let's think about Ofelia's stepfather for a moment. He's basically a monster. He's no better than the Pale Man who (it's implied by a pile of little shoes in his chamber) eats children. Ofelia's stepfather is ruthless, brutal, in otherwords a total psycho.

Do you think that somebody with a heart that twisted and gnarled would be allowed to see the magic? A slogan commonly used for the film was L'innocence est plus forte que mal or in English, Innoncence is stronger than evil. If your heart is clouded with evil, it makes it harder to see light, at least in fairy tale logic.

So at the end of the day, I think the fantastical elements really were real in Pan's Labyrinth, due to the evidence above, and because the director himself said that he 'thought' that they were real. ;) But you can still take the route of the gritty and depressing, since it mostly works. Like I said though, I prefer to think that the magic is real, because otherwise, this movie is a lot darker and lightless than it already is. And even a cynic like me loves the light (Grantaire, anyone?).

While we're here, I'd like to talk about the ending a little bit. Whether or not the magic was real or not, the Faun's statement that 'She returned to her Father' is true. If the magic was real, she returned to her father, the king of the underworld. If it wasn't real- she returned to her Father in Heaven.

The director, Guillermo del Toro, defines the ending like this. The tyrant's reign ends with his death, but the martyr's reign begins with his death.

That's a quote from the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who I am by not really a fan of. But I thought that was a gorgeous quote, and worth mentioning, and a good way to end the post.

Happy Existential Musings!


And yes, that oxymoron was quite intentional.

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