First of all, we just have to establish that Guillermo Del Toro is one of the best directors in the business. Not one of the best international directors-one of the best directors. The movies that I’ve seen from him always overflow with richness and style. It’s obvious he treats his craft as an art.
That said, let’s talk about Pan’s Labyrinth. I have to admit, judging from the trailers, I thought this was going to be a fantasy-laden film. Pan’s Labyrinth was anything but. There were some moments where our young main character, Ofelia, interacted with the fantastic, but the vast majority of the movie is set in a very real and very violent world.
This very real and very violent world is set in the Spanish countryside of 1944. Ofelia and her mother are on their way to live with a captain responsible for eradicating a group of resistance fighters hiding in the woods. The captain is not Ofelia’s true father, but the baby within her mother’s womb is the result of his advances. It’s obvious very early on that the real monster in this movie in the captain, and I think the theme may be that there is more horror in real life than any fantasy we may take part in.
I remember reading some were disappointed that Pan’s Labyrinth dealt more with Ofelia’s mother, the captain, and the resistance fighters than with the fantasy elements of the film, and while this surprised me as well, it did not make me like the film any less. In fact, the tension of this violent and horrific camp had me on the edge of my seat the entire film. But, be aware, if you’re looking for a fantasy romp, I’d say only fifteen percent of the movie takes place in Ofelia’s fantasy world.
And that brings up another point. The story lends itself greatly to the idea that perhaps the fantasy aspect is nothing more than the imaginings of a young girl. It’s very early established that Ofelia is one for fairy tales, and given the fact that she is browbeaten by the captain upon their introduction, it’s not hard to believe that she develops a safety zone for her to retreat within. I may be alone in this thinking, however.
Be aware, also, that while this is a violent film, actual scenes depicting violence are far and few between. But, when those moments are displayed, watch out, they are very graphic and very authentic. But again, I think this may be a message that violence in the real world is worse than any scary make-believe story. It reminds me of a man I once knew, who, upon discovering my superstitions, told me he has enough things to fear in the real world without worrying about a ghost showing up in his house. Wise words.
I definitely recommend this movie. I thought the English subtitles would bother me, but in fact they did not, and, if anything, I think it made me appreciate the subtle body language of the actors all the more. It’s just a beautiful film with a potent message. Give it a view.