Classic Movie Review: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Posted: October 12, 2013 in Drama

Pan's_Labyrinth_

A little girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) imagines a world filled with faeries, a labyrinth and a faun, a half-man, half-goat. (Doug Jones) Ofelia has a deep desire to escape her painful life, with a sadistic stepfather, named Vidal (Sergi Lopez) and a bed-ridden mother named Carmen (Adrianna Gill)  The faun provides that escape, telling Ofelia that she is a great princess named Moanna, whose soul has been reincarnated in this body at this time.  To return to her father a great king, she must complete three tasks.  While Ofelia imagines this splendid world, the brutality of the Spanish civil war continues in the real world.  Vidal, a captain in Franco’s army kills the remaining resistance at will, not knowing that his personal cook, Mercedes (Maribel Verdu) and wife’s doctor (Alex Angulo) are spies for the resistance, plotting against him and the rest of Franco’s army.  Does Ofelia complete the tasks given to her by the faun?  Does Vidal crush the resistance?

I love this movie.  The viewer can take it any number of ways, a simple child’s fable, a brutal war movie, or a spiritual allegory that explains the joys of the next world. Part of Pan’s Labyrinth is definitely reminiscent of Alice In Wonderland, but there is also something deeper conveyed in the story.  Is the faun a demon, tempting Ofelia with food when she is hungry?  Or is he an angel guiding her from this world to a world without hatred or pain?  How do we gain admittance to that perfect world, through deeds (her tasks) or through the blood of someone who dies for us?  The juxtaposition of a brutal world, and the promise of a spiritual world of bliss is sheer genius, and deserves praise.  This is a war movie though, and therefore not meant for kids, the violence is abrasive, and meant to be so, as if to shock the viewer back to reality.  The ending is fitting for a movie like this, I would have been disappointed if it ended any other way.

The acting is spellbinding, especially by Ivana Baquero, who portrays Ofelia with a childlike innocence, but also an adult’s courage.  It’s an amazingly complex performance for a 12 year old.  Sergi Lopez is just evil personified, but he is also smooth and confident, so one can see why a woman would fall for him, a well-rounded performance.  Maribel Verdu is also impressive as the cook, who’s a spy, she also becomes a surrogate mother for Ofelia as her mother gets sicker.  Verdu shows an edge in her interactions with Vidal, but also shows tenderness with Ofelia.

Finally, the direction and writing bring all these disparate elements together.  Writer and director Guillermo Del Toro combines the stunning visual beauty of a child’s fable with the ugliness and brutality of the Spanish Civil War, and the effect is breathtaking.  This movie is both a visual feast, splashed with bright colors, presented along with deep spiritual ideas done in a thoughtful, persuasive way. If your only experience with Del Toro is Pacific Rim, give this one a try, it’s a much better film.

Pan’s Labyrinth: A-Maze-ing.

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