I’ve been stuffing myself with films these days to familiarize myself with the wonderful world of cinematic fiction. Last evening, I finally watched another movie that I’ve been meaning to see for some time now (well, actually my third after first seeing it last week).
At one level, Pan’s Labyrinth is about the fantasy of this girl named Ofelia and how her desires were finally achieved at the end of the film. Ofelia’s return to her father’s kingdom as Princess Moanna though is at once gloomy and full of hope, like the setting of the story.
The Spanish Civil War has just ended. Ofelia and her pregnant mother were staying with the step father, a ruthless Fascist captain chasing the remaining guerrillas hiding in the mountains. What was life like in authoritarian Spain after Franco’s victory? Pan’s Labyrinth gives us an honest glimpse.
Juxtaposed with the captain’s barbaric acts and the increasingly desperate efforts of the resistance is the realm beyond the natural. Ofelia discovers a secret hidden within the walls of an ancient labyrinth beside their country house. Ofelia communes with fairies, a fawn, a book that can foretell the future, and is given three tests in order for her to reclaim her throne. The perils confronting the resisting rebels mounts as the challenges that Ofelia faces becomes more and more dangerous.
For Ofelia, the two realms are intricately connected. She treads both, courting the worry of her sick mother and the cruel outbursts of her stepfather at one time and escaping from a grotesque child eating monster the next. But for the other characters, the two worlds barely if they ever meet. They, like not a few viewers would conclude, cannot tell if the girl only imagined the magical elements to supplant the horrible realities of life, the fruit of too many fairy tales.
Working like a fairy tale itself, Pan’s Labyrinth is a gripping, well-crafted, and very powerful film. ■