Pan’s Labyrinth

Despite the film’s advertising, it is three parts history, one party fantasy. It follows the standard arch of a heroic quest. The protagonist, a young girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), is caught in a world beset by violence and oppression. Her life is one of hardships cloaked in the lies of the adults around her. She grew up the poor daughter of a tailor who died in the Civil War. Her mother (Ariadna Gil) gained the acquaintance of a captain in the army (Sergi López), who takes Ofelia and her mother into his home. He is a man of unrelenting cruelty who is feared by all those around him. Yet despite this exterior, inside he is a tormented individual who struggles to live up to memory of his lineage.

Politics

The political motivations behind Pan’s Labyrinth are pretty obvious. The film takes place during World War II as fighting persists following the Spanish Civil War. The Fascist army of Francisco Franco is engaging Maquis fighters in the woods as part of an insurgency that would last until the 1950’s. Franco would not fall until the Basque separatists of the Eusakdi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) assassinated him in the 1970’s, but commentary on his oppression resonates in this film.

Fantasy

Ofelia’s journey begins when she encounters an insect she believes to be a fairy. This insect leads her into a stone maze, where she meets a Faun (Doug Jones), which is a half-man half-goat god-like creature from Roman and Greek mythology. The Faun informs Ofelia that she is the lost daughter of an ancient kingdom and that if she can complete a series of trials she can leave the desperation of her human life and take up the throne of the underworld as princess.

Here Ofelia is offered respite from the reality of her hollow existence. Like the promise of all fantasy to its heroes and readers, Ofelia seeks a world which is beautiful and without the ugly truths of the adults. Whether what happens to Ofelia is the imagination of a depressed child or the fantastic truth that occur as subtext to the films historical plot is unclear. There is evidence to suggest both, however it is ultimately irrelevant. Ofelia’s transformation from oppressed to liberated may have happened as a thing of fantasy, or a thing of tragedy, either way she escaped the shackles of her existence.

Spoilers & Jesus Too

The film takes a note from European, Christian, and ancient Roman mythology. These images appear throughout the film and collide to create a highly unique subplot. The image of the faun, or Pan, is traditionally Greco-Roman in origin, but has for many centuries been a Christian image as well. Early Christian author Justin Martyr identified Pan as a servant of God who kept the herds safe from wolves.

In much the same way, the faun has been used twice in recent history as a protector image. In this film, and in the franchise The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe, the faun is depicted as a servant of a Christ figure. In Narnia, the lion Aslan is a clear Christ image who rises from the grave to foil the forces of evil. It is a reach to say that Ofelia is a Christ image in this film. Almost every hero over the past 2,000 years has been compared to Jesus. Despite that, there are a number of similarities. Ofelia is a child with a not-present but perfect father. She is presented as the reborn princess of a great kingdom. She must ultimately surrender her own life to achieve greatness. Her mother is shown to be a tragic figure who became pregnant by vague circumstances (though not with Ofelia). Finally, Ofelia is often tempted by other characters and falters, but doesn’t fail. The Christ allegory is there, even if it doesn’t penetrate this film as deeply as it does Narnia, which has extremely heavy Christian undertones.

Summing it Up

This is an excellent film which strong characters and a rewarding plot. Though it carries a clear political message, it is dressed in the mystique of a fantasy that is refreshing and clever. It is a film about finding yourself and maintaining courage through adversity and danger.

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